Treated with Contempt: A Warning from the Family Court

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Contempt Cases in the Family Court

A recent case which has seen an 83 year old man sent to prison for contempt of court offers a stark warning to litigants who may be tempted to treat proceedings less seriously than they ought.

John Hart had been ordered to transfer his shares in a property development company to his ex-wife. Though he did so, this was not without a protracted period of delay, a need for additional legal proceedings- and a sting in the tail.

His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC specified in an order that Mr Hart had to ‘take all steps necessary to ensure that [Mrs Hart] is…able to conduct the efficient and effective management’ of the company.

On completion of the transfer, Mrs Hart discovered that much of the information needed to successfully run the company had been removed from the premises. This necessitated further trips to court, whereby Mr Hart was twice ordered to provide the information.

The orders made included what is known as a penal notice. A penal notice warns the recipient that if they breach the order (including a failure to take specified action) they can be held in contempt of court, resulting in a prison sentence, fine or asset seizure. Penal notices can be attached to a number of family court orders, including those relating to children.

HHJ Wildblood QC noted that although Mr Hart had received repeated warnings to comply with the court’s requirements, ‘he has chosen, repeatedly, not to do so'. The penal notice was duly enforced and Mr Hart found himself en route to a spell in custody.

HHJ Wildblood QC described having carried out a balancing exercise, weighting factors including Mr Hart’s contribution to society through his companies, as well as his previous good character, with the ‘deliberate and sustained’ breaches as well as the high level of culpability shown.

Ultimately, despite his age, Mr Hart used up all of his chances. Whilst the enforcement of a penal notice is something of a measure of last resort, it occurs when all other options have been exhausted, ensuring that the court’s authority is maintained.

If you need advice in relation to the matters discussed within this article, please contact our family law experts on 0113 284 5000 today.

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