Modified Universalisms & the Role of Local Legal Culture in the Making of Cross-Border Insolvency Law

[Forthcoming in American Bankruptcy Law Journal]

83 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2017

See all articles by Adrian Walters

Adrian Walters

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: December 7, 2017


Cross-border insolvency law scholars have devoted much attention to theoretical questions of international system design. There is a general consensus in the literature that the ideal system would be a universalist system in which cross-border insolvencies would be administered in a single forum under a single governing law but scholars have paid less systematic attention to how a universalist system can be implemented in the real world by institutional actors such as legislatures and judges. This article seeks to redress the balance by discussing the reception of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency in the United States and the United Kingdom and exploring the role that judges play in harmonizing cross-border insolvency law.

As the Model Law is choice-of-law neutral, domestic enactments typically contain no express choice-of-law rules. Universalists urge judges to take their cue from modified universalism and interpret Model Law enactments in a manner that approximates to universalism’s ideal “one court, one law” approach. But comparative analysis of Anglo-American judicial practice reveals that the contours of modified universalism are contested. “Modified universalism” as it is understood in the United States implies that judges should presumptively defer to the law of the foreign insolvency proceeding (lex concursus). American universalists tend therefore to favor a strong, centralizing version of modified universalism. By contrast, British modified universalism has a forum law (lex fori) choice-of-law orientation. British modified universalism supports effective coordination of insolvency proceedings with one court having a primary coordinating role. But it lacks any commitment to a centralizing lex concursus rule in the absence of statutory mandate.

Framed by reference to this account of the Model Law’s Anglo-American reception, the article argues that modified universalism offers no convincing theory of how a universalist system is to be institutionalized in practice in the absence of more and harder law, the province of legislatures. Competing versions of modified universalism cannot support an interpretive methodology capable of yielding global judge-made rules of private international law that would address the Model Law’s choice-of-law indeterminacy.

Keywords: UNCITRAL Model Law of Cross-Border Insolvency, International Insolvency, Universalism, Territorialism, Modified Universalism, Choice of Law, Comparative Law

JEL Classification: K22, K30, K33, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Walters, Adrian, Modified Universalisms & the Role of Local Legal Culture in the Making of Cross-Border Insolvency Law (December 7, 2017). [Forthcoming in American Bankruptcy Law Journal], Available at SSRN: or

Adrian Walters (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

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