In most parts of the British empire the law of bankruptcy has been modelled upon the English system. This is particularly the case in Australia and New Zealand. Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand follow the lines of the existing English acts. In Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales the system is rather that of the English act of 1869, leaving more to the creditors' management and less to officialism.
One point may be mentioned in which the Australian colonies have improved on the English system. Under the English acts a bankrupt is under no obligation to apply for his discharge. The result is that the United Kingdom contains a population of 70,000 undischarged bankrupts - a manifest danger to the trading community. Under the bankruptcy systems of New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand, a bankrupt is bound to apply for his discharge within a fixed period, otherwise he is guilty of a contempt of court.
In Canada, under the British North America Act 1867, the Dominion parliament has exclusive legislative power in regard to bankruptcy and insolvency: but there is no existing Dominion act on the subject. A Dominion act was passed in 1875, but repealed in 1880. The failure of this act may perhaps be ascribed to the diversity of the pre-existing provincial systems, embracing such contrasts as the English law of Ontario, and the French code based on cessio bonorum - which ruled in Quebec. Bankruptcy is dealt with in a fragmentary way by the provincial legislatures by acts regulating such matters as priority of execution creditors, fraudulent assignments and preferences, imprisonment of debtors, administration of estates of deceased insolvents.
In Cape Colony and Natal English law is substantially followed. In the Transvaal, where Roman-Dutch law prevails, the law governing the subject is the Insolvency Law, No. 13 of 1895. It provides for voluntary surrender and compulsory sequestration. The law of the Orange River Colony is similar.
In British Guiana, Gambia, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Grenada, Trinidad, Tobago and the Straits Settlements the law is modelled on the English pattern.
In India insolvency is regulated by the Indian Insolvency Act 1848, extended by the Act XI. of 1889.
An English bankrupt, it may be added, is entitled to plead his discharge in England as a defence in a colonial court. The explanation is this. The English act vests all the bankrupt's property, whether in the United Kingdom or in the colonies, in his trustee in bankruptcy. Having thus denuded him of everything, it has been held to follow that the bankrupt's discharge must also receive recognition in a colonial court.
Bankruptcy in France is regulated by the Commercial Code of 1807, amended and supplemented by the law of 9th June 1838. By Article 437 of the code bankruptcy is defined as the state of a trader who is unable to meet his commercial engagements. Simple insolvency of this kind is known in France as faillite. Insolvency attended with circumstances of misconduct or fraud is known as banqueroute simple or banqueroute frauduleuse. Only a trader can become bankrupt. The debt, too, for obtaining adjudication must be a commercial debt, the laws regulating bankruptcy being designed exclusively for the protection of commerce. To be made a bankrupt a trader need not be insolvent: it is sufficient that he has suspended payment. Commercial companies of all kinds are liable to be declared bankrupt in the same manner as individual traders. A trader-debtor can be adjudicated bankrupt upon his own petition, or upon the petition of a creditor, or by the court itself proprio motu. A petitioning debtor must within fifteen days file at the office of the Tribunal of Commerce of the district, a declaration of suspension, with a true account of his conduct and of the state of his affairs, showing his assets, debts, profits and losses and personal expenses.
On adjudication the Tribunal of Commerce appoints a person, called a syndic provisoire, to manage the bankrupt's estate, and a juge commissaire is also named to supervise the syndic. A bankruptcy terminates by an ordinary composition (concordat), a sale of the debtor's assets (union), or a composition by relinquishment of assets. It is a striking feature of the French system, and highly creditable to French commercial integrity, that a discharge in bankruptcy, even when accompanied by a declaration d'excusabilité, leaves the unpaid balance a debt of honour. At the time of the French Revolution the National Convention passed a resolution that any man who contracted a debt should never be free from liability to pay it. The spirit of this resolution still survives, for until a trader has paid every penny that he owes he is not rehabilitated and remains under the stigma of various disabilities: he has no political rights, he cannot hold any public office, or act as a stockbroker, or sit on a jury. Banqueroute simple is where the bankrupt has been guilty of grave faults in the conduct of his business, such as extravagance in living, hazardous speculation or preferring creditors. Banqueroute frauduleuse involves the worse delinquency of fraud.
Both banqueroute simple and banqueroute frauduleuse are punishable, - the latter with penal servitude ranging from five to twenty years.