A Postcard from Chris Symes.
One of the benefits of being in the Northern Hemisphere and reasonably located here in Ireland close to much of Europe, is the ability to get to events in other parts of Europe, and recently I flew over the Irish Sea to Cambridge for the Society of Legal Scholars annual conference at Downing College. In attendance was a scattering of insolvency people including Prof Sir Roy Goode. Roy’s fourth edition of Principles of Corporate Insolvency Law has just been released and in the Preface he announces that he will take a bow and leave the stage to younger and more vigorous scholars. At the conference dinner he made a valedictory speech that was amusing and reflective. For example he recalled the story of an examination question he set asking about the ‘securing of a Mini Cooper’ and the one student answer that considered the many ways a female called Mini Cooper could take action for her false imprisonment and the like. He never said how far that student went in an insolvency career!
Another notable feature of the presentations was the influence of former Aussie’s on the current scholarship. In sessions I attended there were presentations from a former PhD student of Andrew Keay (formerly USQ), a postdoctoral student of Roman Tomasic (formerly Uni Canberra and VUT) and the attendance of Sarah Worthington (formerly Uni of Melb) who has just been appointed Downing Professor at Cambridge.
By far the most intense insolvency discussions were those with John Tribe and his colleagues at Kingston University in London. John set up a very early blog on insolvency related affairs and continues to serves the English profession so well with his current commentary and technical information.
And finally what was the one thing I learnt from four days swanning around like a Cambridge Don, well its this… the Crimean War influenced why we have limited liability for companies. A young academic from Aberdeen has been researching, amongst other things, the parliamentary debates of the mid 19th century around the time of the first Limited Liability Act 1855 and has evidence that the parliament was so focused on the Crimean War that it rushed the passage of limited liability. Now, in Goode’s book, he states that “corporate insolvency initially piggy-backed on bankruptcy law and did not assume a truly distinctive status until the advent of limited liability for members of a company with the enactment of the Limited Liability Act 1855; and the first modern company law statute was the Companies Act 1862, which contained detailed winding up provisions, including a provision for pari passu distribution.” (page 11 and 12 of Goode, RM, Principles of Corporate Insolvency Law 4th ed 2011) So from now on, when you think of the history of corporate insolvency and wonder where it came from, you may consider one influence might have been Russian!