A day in the Life – Bankruptcy Court
As I sat in Court 7 in the Four Courts last week a thought struck me.
The hustle and bustle of the courts
After more than 30 years in business as a solicitor, I have become somewhat immune to all the hustle and bustle surrounding me in the courts.
There are solicitors and barristers all around reviewing papers, lodging documents, attending to last-minute preparations and taking instructions from their clients.
The Court Registrar is answering questions from people in the courtroom and issuing directions on the practical formalities such as submitting paperwork and where cases are appearing in the day’s list.
The Bankruptcy Inspector is moving around trying to identify people and telling them what he needs from them.
The Courtroom is a hub of activity. While this is not unusual to me, for those witnessing their first and possibly only day in court, it must be completely alien and stressful.
The reality in 2014 is that the number of people declaring themselves bankrupt is at an all-time high. Because this number has grown exponentially does not necessarily mean that the process is any easier for each individual going through such a stressful process, because for them it is the very first time.
The Bankruptcy Court- the Mechanics of it all
On the day of the Bankruptcy Court, things move fast and applications are dealt with in a matter of minutes – for example last week there were 30 cases dealt with in less than an hour!
The hard work is done in preparing and perfecting the volume of paperwork needed to get you to the stage of appearing before a Judge.
Ironically once you get there it can all be over before you even have the chance to take in the surrounding activity.
At the Court appearance, if the Court is satisfied that the papers are in order, the Judge will adjudicate bankruptcy and give a further court date to deal with any creditor objections which may arise once creditors are notified (this is another day in court for those who wish to avail of bankruptcy) .
Certain orders must be requested from the judge to ensure that costs are minimised.
The Court may advise you to make contact with the Bankruptcy Inspector on the day of adjudication to progress the case. The Inspector will be in court. The prepared documents need to be handed to him to confirm whether the bankruptcy case is complex or otherwise.
For most people, the Inspector will not meet with them on the day. He or she will correspond with them after the first hearing date to go through the detailed financial paperwork submitted by them. The Inspector will work with them to determine what their level of spending will be for the next three years and what portion of their income (if any) will have to be paid to their creditors for the next five years. The Inspector will also agree on the personal items that people are allowed to keep after declaring themselves bankrupt (these are allowed to the value of €6000).
The Daunting Nature and Stress of the Process
As I sat, waiting for my various cases to be called, I thought to myself- what if this was a family member or close friend who was going through this process. What advice would I give them?
It is always helpful to have somebody to guide you through the process. To have somebody who will advise you of the pitfalls and the most important requirements, somebody who will speak on your behalf in court – which for many people can be extremely stressful – and even something so simple as having somebody to tell you where to go and what to do on the day.
You Should Never Walk Alone
I would strongly advise people in a bankruptcy situation not to go it alone. There is great potential for errors in documents submitted to the court. This normally happens through lack of understanding or simply genuinely thinking the information is not relevant.
Any errors genuine or otherwise could result in questions or ultimately losing bankruptcy status down the line.
Because of the fast-paced nature of the hearing there is no opportunity to get clarification from the Court on any uncertainties.
Life Changing Decisions
Making the decision to go Bankrupt is for most people one of the biggest decisions that they will make in their lives.
Why then would this decision be taken without the proper support and advice being given to those who need it most?
There is unfortunately, despite lobbying on numerous sides, no free legal aid or financial assistance available for those going down the bankruptcy road.
As I sat and watched those who are unrepresented in court on the day I could see that many of them were unsure and vulnerable. It had obviously been a long road to get to this day and there was an even longer road to travel to get to the end.
Make sure you are prepared for this challenge
If you are considering bankruptcy then I would urge you to go and get the proper advice that you need. It is a big decision to make and one which has lifelong consquences. Understanding all the implications is very important.
Safety net to come out the other side
You need to put that safety net of support in place so that when your time in court is up you will have peace of mind in knowing that you have not only made the right choice, but you have done it the right away.