The beautiful city of Vienna is home to several United Nations organisations including the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). UNCITRAL’s mandate is to remove legal obstacles to international trade by progressively modernising and harmonising trade law. UNCITRAL’s Working Group V (Insolvency Law) meets twice a year, in New York each May and in Vienna each December to undertake the substantive preparation on UNCITRAL’s work program.
Whilst tourists enjoy the myriad of Christmas markets and the charming city in all of its festive glory; each December state officials, academics, insolvency experts and legal practitioners from around the globe meet at the Vienna International Centre to participate in Working Group V. This year the 56th session of Working Group V was held from 2 to 5 December.
An orderly spectacle
The proceedings of the Working Group are fascinating. Each session takes place in a large boardroom which is able to accommodate representatives from all of UNCITRAL’s 60 member states as well as representatives from NGOs and inter-governmental organisations. The documents prepared by the UNCITRAL Secretariat for the Working Group’s consideration are available in the six official languages of the United Nations and translators are kept on standby to ensure that the discussion that takes place is communicated to all in attendance.
Discussion takes place in a formal manner governed by etiquette rules universally understood among delegations. A raised ‘flag’ (the delegation’s name card) will signify to the chairperson that the delegation wishes to speak and the delegation will be accorded the opportunity to do so. An intervention by a delegation always begins with thanking the chair or other distinguished delegates for their contribution.
The 56th session of Working Group V
At its 56th session, the Working Group focused on the important topic of a simplified insolvency regime for micro and small-sized enterprises (MSEs). A draft text, prepared by the Secretariat, was deliberated over by the Working Group while taking into account the need for a simplified insolvency regime to be equitable, fast, flexible and cost efficient. The draft text does not attempt to articulate the eligibility criteria for MSEs to access the simplified insolvency regimes and leaves that issue to states.
Finding middle ground
The diversity of the Working Group and the differing cultures and legal systems of delegations can give rise to a divergence in opinions. Notwithstanding, the fact that delegations come together at the Working Group with positive intent makes collaboration possible. One such example was the point of contention raised during the Working Group regarding the ‘competent authority’ as defined in the draft text and whether the definition should explain the competent authority’s role and function. After more than two hours of deliberation, delegations were able to come to an agreement on the suitable elements of such a definition. It is when states are able to find ‘middle ground’ and compromise on a contentious sticking point that the Working Group is most effective.
The Working Group noted the importance of simplified proceedings as a quick and efficient mechanism allowing debtors the opportunity of a ‘fresh start’ to return to the economy. Mechanisms such as zero-asset proceedings were examined and deliberated on at length.
For more information on the substantive deliberations of the Working Group, please refer to the upcoming report of the LAWASIA delegation on the 56th session of Working Group V.
Updated Report on 56th session of WGV – December 2019