In Scotland, as in England, the law of bankruptcy arose as a remedy against the frauds of insolvent debtors. It was declared by an act of the Scottish parliament (1621, c. 18) that no debtor after insolvency should fraudulently diminish the fund belonging to his creditors, and if a deed of assignment was gratuitously executed after the contracting of debt in favour of a near relation or a confidential friend, fraudulent dealing was to be presumed. The act 1696, c. 5, settled the definition of a notour or notorious bankrupt, a question which had previously engaged the attention of the judges of the court of session. The statute defines "a notour bankrupt" to be any debtor who, being under diligence by horning or caption, at the instance of his creditors, shall be either imprisoned, or retire to the abbey or any other privileged place, or flee or abscond for his personal security, or defend his person by force, and who shall afterwards be found, by sentence of the lords of session, to be insolvent. Bankruptcy as thus defined was, it is said, intended to afford a remedy against fraudulent preference by debtors, and not as the ground-work of a general process of distribution, although by later statutes it became a necessary requisite of every such process.
The exceptions recognized in the act of 1696, of persons absent from Scotland and therefore not liable to imprisonment, or of persons exempted therefrom by special privileges, were removed by later legislation. The old English distinction between traders and non-traders, it will be observed, is not recognized in Scottish law. The statute made null and void all voluntary dispositions, assignations and other deeds made after or within sixty days before bankruptcy.
In 1856 was passed the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act, by which the law of bankruptcy in Scotland is mainly regulated. By this act, notour (i.e. legally declared) bankruptcy was constituted: -
2. By insolvency concurring either - (a) with a duly executed charge for payment or (b) with sale of effects belonging to the debtor under a poinding or under a sequestration for rent, or making application for the benefit of cessio bonorum.
Notour bankruptcy continues, in cases of sequestration, until the debtor has obtained his discharge and in other cases until insolvency ceases. Sequestration may be awarded of the estate of any person in the following cases: -
1. Living debtor subject to jurisdiction of Scottish courts - (a) on his own petition with concurrence of qualified creditors, or (b) on petition of qualified creditors, provided he be a notour bankrupt, and have had a dwelling-house or place of business in Scotland within the previous year.
2. In the case of a deceased debtor, subject at his death to the jurisdiction of the court - (a) on the petition of his mandatory; or (b) on the petition of qualified creditors (§ 13).
Sequestration may be awarded either by the court of session or by the sheriff. A sequestration may be recalled by a majority in number and four-fifths in value of the creditors, who may prefer to wind up the estate by private arrangement. If the sequestration proceeds, the creditors hold a meeting, and by a majority in value elect a trustee to administer the estate, and three commissioners (being creditors or their mandatories) to assist and control the administration and declare the dividends. The bankrupt (under pain of imprisonment) must give all the information in his power regarding his estate and he must be publicly examined on oath before the sheriff; and "conjunct and confident persons" may likewise be examined. The bankrupt may be discharged either by composition or without composition. In the latter case (1) by petition with concurrence of all the creditors, or (2) after six months with concurrence of a majority and four-fifths in value of the creditors, or (3) after eighteen months with concurrence of a bare majority in number and value, or (4) after two years without concurrence. In the last case the judge may refuse the application if he thinks the bankrupt has fraudulently concealed his effects or wilfully failed to comply with the law.
This act was amended by the Bankruptcy and Real Securities Act 1857, which deals with the cost of competition for trusteeships; the Bankruptcy Amendment (Scotland) Act 1860, which enables the court to recall a sequestration where it is more convenient that the estate should be wound up in England or Ireland; and the Bankruptcy Amendment Act (Scotland) 1875, which makes the wages of clerks, shopmen and servants preferential claims for a period not exceeding four months and an amount not exceeding £50, while the claims of workmen are placed on a similar footing for a period not exceeding two months. Some important changes were subsequently introduced, one of the principal being that effected by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1880, which abolished imprisonment for debt, but which, like its English prototype (the Debtors Act 1869), contains a series of important provisions for the punishment of fraudulent bankrupts. Under these provisions the laws of the two countries on that subject are practically assimilated, although some minor differences still survive.
One of the most important of these differences is, that while the Scottish act makes the failure, within the three years prior to the sequestration, to keep "such books and accounts as, according to the usual course of any trade or business in which he (the debtor) may have been engaged, are necessary to exhibit or explain his transactions" a criminal offence, the English act contains no provision of an analogous character; the non-keeping of such books being treated as a fact to be taken into account in dealing with the debtor's application for his discharge but not coming within the scope of the criminal law. On the other hand, there are a few minor trading irregularities dealt with in the English act which are not specifically included in that of Scotland. Another important distinction is that under the Scottish act the same offences may be treated differently, according as they are brought for trial before the court of justiciary or a sheriff and jury, in which case the maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment; or before a sheriff without a jury, in which case the penalty is limited to imprisonment for a period not exceeding sixty days.
This distinction admits of a useful elasticity in the administration of the law, having regard to the comparative importance of the case, which is hardly possible under the English act.
Another most important modification of the law is effected by the Debtors Act 1880, combined with the Bankruptcy and Cessio Act 1881, and the Act of Sederunt anent Cessios of the 22nd of December 1882. Under the law existing prior to these enactments, the process of cessio bonorum operated chiefly as a means for obtaining release from imprisonment for debt on a formal surrender by a debtor of all his goods and estate. But under this process the debtor was not entitled to a discharge, and his future-acquired property was still subject to diligence at the instance of unsatisfied creditors. By abolishing imprisonment for debt (except in regard to crown debts and public rates and assessments), the legislature also practically abolished this use of the process of cessio, and the process itself would probably have become obsolete, but for certain changes effected by the act of 1881, which have given it a different and more extended scope. Among these changes may be noted (1) the extension to "any creditor of a debtor who is notour bankrupt," without reference to the amount of his debt, of the right hitherto limited to the debtor himself, to petition the court for a decree of cessio, the prayer of the petition, whether presented by the debtor or by a creditor, being "to appoint a trustee to take the management and disposal of the debtor's estate for behoof of his creditors"; (2) the discretionary power given to the court upon such petition to award sequestration under the bankruptcy act, in any case where the liabilities of the debtor exceed £200; and (3) the right of the debtor to apply for his discharge under similar conditions to those obtaining in the case of sequestration.
An important modification of the law relating to discharge which equally affects a debtor under the Bankruptcy and Cessio Acts, is also effected by the provision of the act of 1881, which requires, in addition to the concurrence of creditors, the fulfilment of one of the following conditions, viz., "(a) That a dividend of five shillings in the pound has been paid out of the estate of the debtor, or that security for payment thereof has been found to the satisfaction of the creditors; or (b) that the failure to pay five shillings in the pound has, in the opinion of the sheriff, arisen from circumstances for which the debtor cannot justly be held responsible." Orders of cessio are only made in the sheriff courts, and when made, the court also appoints a trustee, who conducts the proceedings without the control exercised by the creditors in a sequestration. Under these conditions it will be seen that the original purpose and constitution of the process of cessio has entirely disappeared, and it has now become a modified form of official bankruptcy procedure, with a less elaborate routine than in the case of sequestration, and one perhaps more suitable to the smaller class of cases, to which in practice it is limited.
The Bankruptcy Frauds and Disabilities (Scotland) Act 1884 applies to sequestrations and decrees of cessio the criminal provisions of § 31 of the English Bankruptcy Act 1883, relating to the obtaining of credit for £20 and upwards by an undischarged bankrupt, without disclosure of his position. It also places the law relating to the disqualifications attaching to such bankrupts on a similar footing to that of the English act.
The Judicial Factors Act of 1889 contains a provision calculated to check excessive costs of administration, by requiring that where the remuneration of a trustee under a sequestration is to be fixed by the commissioners, intimation of the rate of remuneration is to be given to the creditors and to the accountant of court before being acted on, and the latter officer is empowered, subject to appeal, to modify the same if he deems it expedient.
It may be pointed out that the Deeds of Arrangement Act 1887, which applies to England and Ireland, does not apply to Scotland, and there is no analogous provision requiring registration of private deeds of assignment for the benefit of creditors as a condition of their validity in that country.
Finally, it is to be noted that the office of accountant in bankruptcy, which was established by the Bankruptcy Act of 1856, has under the Judicial Factors Act 1889 been abolished, the duties being merged in those of the office of accountant of the court of session.