Family Law Hub

Contempt of Court

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  • The former husband appealed against an order committing him to prison for six weeks unless he paid the sum of £50,000 to his former wife, as previously ordered by Mostyn J, by way of maintenance. The order was made under s 5 of the Debtors Act 1869 and the judgment summons procedure in Order 28 of the County Court Rules 1984. Underhill LJ noted that a judgment debtor can only be committed if the creditor proves to the criminal standard that the debtor had the means to pay the sum in question at the relevant date, but had refused or neglected to do so. The former husband appealed on the ground that the judge could not have been satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he had the sum in question. Underhill LJ did not accept that submission. There was no rule that the only way in which the judge could be sure of that point was by explicit evidence given at the time of the committal hearing. What was required would depend on all the circumstances of the case, including such inferences as it was proper for the judge to draw from the evidence that he did hear, which might include an inference that unless there were some reason to believe to the contrary the original default was continuing. In the circumstances of the present case, the judge had been fully entitled to conclude to the criminal standard that the money was still outstanding. Nugee LJ agreed. The appeal had been lodged seven days out of time; the extension was allowed, and the appeal dismissed on the merits. Judgment, 23/08/2021, free
  • Both parents were British citizens, the mother living in London, the father in Switzerland. The mother applied for an Hadkinson order, for the father's two conjoined appeals to be dismissed unless he paid outstanding costs orders and other amounts previously ordered by the court. The father frankly admitted the non-payment of the amounts ordered, had not sought a stay or variation, and had not undertaken to pay. He was clearly in contempt, and had sufficient income to make payment. In determining whether to make a Hadkinson order, Poole J bore in mind that it was a case management order of the last resort, and that it had to be proportionate to the problem identified. He ordered that the father should make a payment of £88,796.37 previously ordered to be paid, together with another sum of £8,767.80 previously ordered to be paid, the total payable by a given date to the mother's current solicitors, to be held on account pending the resolution of an appeal. In default of payment, the father's two appeals would be dismissed. Judgment, 09/08/2021, free
  • A hearing at which Cobb J considered the appropriate sanction for breaches of a freezing injunction. The parties had never married, but lived together for about 20 years and had five children. The female partner had asserted that there had been 562 withdrawals from the account, and the vast majority had been proven. Cobb J took into account that it was not the female partner's wish to see the male partner imprisoned, and that the breaches had been deliberate, repeated, and over an extended period of time, leaving the account materially depleted, and that the male partner had at no time admitted his wrongdoing or accepted responsibilty for the breach. A six-month sentence of imprisonment would be the appropriate sanction, suspended for twelve months, to ensure his compliance with the extant final orders. Judgment, 18/11/2020, free
  • The parties lived together for about 20 years before separating, and had five children together, but never married. This was an application from the female partner for an order that the male partner be sanctioned for multiple breaches of a freezing order. He in turn argued that any breach of the freezing order was inadvertent. It was accepted by both parties that the relevant account was left depleted by the sum of £13,015.94. Cobb J found that the male partner's narrative was "simply implausible", and his explanations "contrived and disingenuous". He had treated the account as his personal account. He had breached the freezing order, and the breaches had been knowing and deliberate. Sanctions would be decided at a subsequent hearing. Judgment, 26/05/2020, free
  • An appeal brought by the court itself, alleging contempt. The matter arose out of proceedings relating to the respondent's son. The mother had refused him contact with the child, and then raised allegations of coercive control and domestic violence. At the hearing the father made comments that were considered threatening. Moor J found that there was contempt in the face of the court. It was clear that he was threatening to pursue access to the child outside the court process and irrespective of court orders. However, the sentence was suspended for one year and reduced to two months in prison. Judgment, 07/04/2020, free

Latest know-how

Latest training

  • Watch the recording of the webinar 'Contempt of Court - All Change?', first broadcast on Wednesday 16th June 2021, with Sir Jonathan Cohen and Nicholas Allen QC. Webcast, 25/06/2021, free
  • Recording of webinar first broadcast on 21st March 2019 Webcast, 26/03/2019, members only

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