The Bankruptcy Judges in Focus - the role of the Registrars in Bankruptcy of the High Court

It is possible for us to read the Bankruptcy list on a daily basis to see what is going on up at the Thomas More Building (pictured). As we do certain names become familiar. There are of course the debtor litigants, petitioners and so forth but there are also the judges. Who are these people and what is the role of a Registrar in Bankruptcy of the High Court?

The office of Bankruptcy Registrar has a fairly long heritage. Some heated debate occurred in the House of Lords on the jurisdiction on 3 July 1851. The Lord Brougham was discussing "a Bill abolishing patronage producing great emolument, and among other offices it abolished the office of Chief Registrar of the Court of Bankruptcy, which produced to its holder 1,200l. a year, and transferred the duties of it to the Lord Chancellor's Chief Secretary." The Lord Chancellor responded that, "he certainly now found that the Chief Registrar was an essential officer to give validity to most important proceedings in bankruptcy, and to establish titles acquired under bankruptcy." and, "he had not done more towards carrying into effect the recommendations contained in certain reports for the abolition of certain offices, as those of Secretary of Bankrupts, and Chaffwax and Sealer." The post survives to this day.

So what do the modern Registrars in Bankruptcy do? As at least one commentator has suggested their title is a little misleading as Registrars in Bankruptcy of the High Court sit in Bankruptcy and in the Companies Court. In terms of rank the Bankruptcy Registrars are equivalent to High Court Masters. In terms of the business, the Bankruptcy Registrars "hear almost all the insolvency and companies cases heard in the High Court, including trials (i.e. cases arising under the Insolvency Act 1986, the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the Companies Acts and related legislation)."

Bankruptcy Registrars were traditionally drawn from the ranks of barristers and solicitors of at least 7 years call/qualification. As of 21 July 2008 the time period has been reduced to 5 years to encourage diversity.

The Registrars sometime come to wider public attention, especially when they hear cases that involve famous people, such as Mr Registrar Nicholls with Kerry Katona, or Deputy Registrar Kyriakides with Paul Gascogine. Unfortunately attention has also be drawn to post holders who have been assaulted in court, such as Mr Registrar Simmonds in 2002. Similarly, their judgments can sometimes cause debate and comment in the legal world. They have also been known to engage with charitable activity.

There are a number of provisions in the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA86) that relate to the Bankruptcy Registrars. For instance, s.375 (2) states that an appeal from a decision made in the exercise of jurisdiction for the purposes of those Parts by a county court or by a registrar in bankruptcy of the High Court lies to a single judge of the High Court; and an appeal from a decision of that judge on such an appeal lies [...] to the Court of Appeal. Section 413 states that the Insolvency Rules committee must (perhaps unsurprisingly!) include a Registrar in Bankruptcy in addition to a judge of the High Court attached to the Chancery Division; a circuit judge; the registrar of a county court; a practising barrister; a practising solicitor; and a practising accountant.

The current Chief Bankruptcy Registrar is Dr Stephen Baister, a former solicitor. He was appointed to his current post on 1 July 2004, having been a Registrar since 4 November 1996. Bankruptcy Registrar Barber was appointed on the 6 April 2009. Miss Sally-Anne Barber was formerly a barrister practicing at 11 Stone Buildings who was aged 44 at the time of her appointment. She was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1988. She was appointed as a Deputy Bankruptcy Registrar in 2007. Bankruptcy Registrar Derrett was appointed on the 20 May 2002. Bankruptcy Registrar Jaques was appointed on 6 April 1998. Bankruptcy Registrar Nicholls was appointed on 15 December 2003. Lord Falconer appointed Peter Sydney Aubin Nicholls a Bankruptcy Registrar of the High Court. At the time of his appointment Mr Nicholls was 51. He was admitted as a solicitor in July 1978 and was a partner with Leathes Prior from 1978 until becoming a Consultant with them in 1996. He was appointed group Solicitor and Company Secretary to H P Sands Holdings Ltd in 1997. He has been a part time Chairman of Medical Appeals Panels for the Royal Medical Colleges since 1999. He has been a deputy District Judge since 1992 and was appointed as a deputy Bankruptcy Registrar in 1996. Finally, Bankruptcy Registrar Simmons was appointed on 1 February 1993.

There are also the Deputy Registrars (these have also existed in Ireland), mainly drawn from the ranks of the Bar. Posts are filled following open advertisement by the Judicial Appointments Commission and are rewarded on a generous basis (£98,800 in 2008).

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