In re a Company (No 0012209 of 1991): ChD 1992

It is an abuse of the process of the court to make a statutory demand or present a winding-up petition based on a claim to which there is a triable defence. Where a statutory demand is made but disputed on reasonable grounds, the creditor may find himself liable to indemnity costs on its dismissal.
Hoffmann J said: ‘It does seem to me that a tendency has developed, possibly since the decision in Cornhill Insurance plc v Improvement Services Ltd [1986] BCLC 26, [1986] 1 WLR 114, to present petitions against solvent companies as a way of putting pressure upon them to make payments of money which is bona fide disputed rather than to invoke the procedures which the rules provide for summary judgment. I do not for a moment wish to detract from anything which was said in the Cornhill Insurance case, which indeed followed earlier authority, to the effect that a refusal to pay an indisputable debt is evidence from which the inference may be drawn that the debtor is unable to pay. It was, however, a somewhat unusual case in which it was quite clear that the company in question had no grounds at all for its refusal. Equally it seems to me that if the court comes to the conclusion that a solvent company is not putting forward any defence in good faith and is merely seeking to take for itself credit which it is not allowed under the contract, then the court would not be inclined to re-strain presentation of the petition. But, if, as in this case, it appears that the defence has a prospect of success and the company is solvent, then I think that the court should give the company the benefit of the doubt and not do anything which would encourage the use of the Companies Court as an alternative to the RSC Ord 14 procedure.’

Hoffmann J
[1992] 2 All ER 797, [1992] 1 WLR 351, [1992] BCLC 865
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Legal Professions, Company, Insolvency

Updated: 19 November 2021; Ref: scu.278997