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Re DAD (application for committal, flawed process)

Hell yeah

Thank you Holman J for the best case name ever. Re DAD.  [Although annoyingly, the case is really about an uncle rather than a dad…]

 

If you are doing a committal case, either for or against, this case will be worth reading and taking with you. Paragraph 10 of the judgment, as underlined, makes a very difficult argument to overcome, due to the standard orders being flawed.

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2655.html

 

In this case, the father had allegedly abducted his son in breach of a Court order, and the child having been kept away from the mother for over 8 months.  The mother obtained a Collection Order, which compelled the father to return the child, but it had not been possible to locate the father to serve it upon him.

 

However, the father’s brother was at a known address and an order was made in these terms:-

 

“(2) If [the father, who is specifically named in the order] and/or any other person served with this order is in a position to do so, he or she must each deliver the child into the charge of the Tipstaff.

(3) If the respondent or any other person served with this order is not in a position to deliver the child into the charge of the Tipstaff, he or she must each:-

(a) inform the Tipstaff of the whereabouts of the child, if such are known to him or her; and

(b) also in any event inform the Tipstaff of all matters within his or her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the child.”

It is important to mention that paragraph 7 of the order later provides that:

“The obligations under paragraphs 2 and 3 above will continue until the Tipstaff takes charge of the child…”

 

Fairly traditional order, and I have written about a number of these cases where a relative knows where the child is and conceals it and then is committed to prison.

 

5…on Saturday 27th June 2015, police officers acting on the instructions and authority of the Tipstaff attended at an address at which Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry was residing. I mention that, as I understand it, it is not in fact his own home, but he was residing there with a relative of his. Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry is the brother of the father of the child and, accordingly, the uncle of the child. The police officers introduced themselves to Mr Chaudhry and produced a copy of the Collection Order in Form 2A and asked him for any information he could give as to the whereabouts of the child. In summary, and in effect, he said that he did not know where either the child or his brother, the child’s father, were. The police officers then telephoned the Tipstaff himself. The Tipstaff himself considered that Mr Chaudhry in fact knew more than he was revealing and, accordingly, that he (the Tipstaff) had reasonable cause to believe that Mr Chaudhry was disobeying paragraph 3 of the Collection Order in Form 2A. He therefore instructed the police officers to arrest Mr Chaudhry in obedience by the Tipstaff himself to the provisions which I have mentioned of the Collection Order in Form 2B, which are directed to the Tipstaff. Mr Chaudhry was then conveyed to the local police station in custody and brought before a judge here at the Royal Courts of Justice on the following Monday. He was further remanded in custody by that judge and only finally released from physical custody on Friday 10th July 2015. In other words, following the evening of his first arrest on Saturday 27th June 2015 until his first release from actual custody, Mr Chaudhry spent thirteen nights in custody; eleven of them in Pentonville Prison. On Friday 10th July 2015 he was released on bail subject to certain conditions. There have been subsequent adjournments of the application to commit him to prison and it has come before me (dealing with the matter for the first time) for substantive resolution today.

  1. The essence of the case of the mother in support of her application to commit is that there had been considerable communication by text and/or email and/or telephone between the father and Mr Chaudhry before, and in the months following, the actual abduction of the child. Accordingly, even if Mr Chaudhry did not and does not now know the precise whereabouts of the child, he certainly had “matters within his knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist [the Tipstaff] in locating the child” which he certainly failed to give information about prior to his arrest on 27th June 2015 and which even now he has not been fully forthcoming about. So it is that the solicitors on behalf of the mother issued a formal application on 7th July 2015, which was subsequently amended on 16th July 2015, for Mr Chaudhry to be committed to prison for contempt of court. The formal application notice for committal, as amended, seeks that he be committed to prison for contempt of court “because Mr Chaudhry disobeyed paragraphs 3(a) and (b) of the Collection Order made…on 20th February 2015…” in ways which were described in supporting statements made by the solicitors for the mother.
  2. Pausing there, it thus follows that the matter for which I am asked to commit Mr Chaudhry to prison is very specifically that he has disobeyed those paragraphs of that order

 

 

In this case, counsel for uncle, very generously and fairly told the Judge that the best points of the uncle’s argument had been arrived at through hard work of the uncle’s solicitor.

 

 I should mention that appropriately, but generously, Mr Main-Thompson made very clear today that all or most of these points – which are made in his most excellent position statement and skeleton argument, dated 15th September 2015 – are points which have been generated by the input and researches of his instructing solicitor, Ms Maria Wright. She is a solicitor who is employed by Freemans, who act on behalf of Mr Chaudhry, and who herself has conduct of this matter. There are within that position statement and skeleton argument a number of important points with regard to the lawfulness of the Collection Order in the form in which it was made in this case. There is, in my view, however, one knockout point with which I will deal in a moment. Since I regard that point, even standing on its own, as completely decisive in this case, anything I were to say in relation to the other points would be what lawyers called obiter. It happens that there is very currently a thorough – going review of the form and language of collection orders. In my view, it is undesirable that I should express in judgment any view or comment which would be obiter about these other points

 

 

Always  nice when a Judge praises the hard work of a solicitor. Even nicer when he describes one of your points as a knockout one.

 

 

Hell to the yeah

Hell to the yeah

 

 

What’s the knockout punch?

 

  1. I turn, therefore, to what, in my view, is the decisive point for the purposes of the present application and the one upon which I base my decision and judgment today. The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (as amended) make provision in relation to applications for committal. So far as is material to the present case, the first rule in point is rule 37.4, which provides as follows:

    “37.4 Enforcement of Judgment, order or undertaking to do or abstain from doing an act

    (1) If a person –

    (a) required by a judgment or order to do an act does not do it within the time fixed by the judgment or order; or

    (b) disobeys a judgment or order not to do an act,

    then, subject to…the provisions of these rules, the judgment or order may be enforced under the court’s powers by an order for committal”

    Pausing there, it is clear from the language of that rule that the power to commit is itself subject to the provisions of those rules. The next relevant rule is rule 37.9. That provides as follows:

    “37.9 Requirement for a penal notice on judgments and orders

    (1) Subject to paragraph (2) [which is not in point in the present case], a judgment or order to do or not to do an act may not be enforced under rule 37.4 unless there is prominently displayed, on the front of the copy of the judgment or order served in accordance with this Chapter, a warning to the person required to do or not do the act in question that disobedience to the order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.”

  2. Pausing there, I emphasise from that rule the words “prominently displayed” and “on the front of the copy of the judgment or order served”. I stress at once that the collection order made in this case was, and is, in the absolutely standard form that has been in regular use by judges of the High Court for many years. The actual order made in the present case shows in the top right hand corner that it is in a form that was revised in May 2011. I say at once that I personally have made a considerable number of collection or similar orders, such as location and passport orders, in these standard forms without appreciating until today that they all suffer the defect that there is no penal notice prominently displayed on the front of them. But if there is a failure to comply with an express requirement of rules of court, it is of course no justification to say that the failure to comply has been longstanding and routine.
  3. The standard form of collection order and the one used in this case extends altogether to six sheets of paper, although the third page is largely blank. There is nothing remotely in the nature of a penal notice at all on the first four sheets of the order. The fifth sheet is headed with the following words in capital letters: “Important notice to the respondent and to any other person served with this order”. There are then a series of number paragraphs 1 to 5. These are headed respectively:

    (1) Liability to be arrested;

    (2) Liability to be committed to prison;

    (3) Your rights;

    (4) The Tipstaff;

    (5) Interpretation.

    The font or print size used on pages 5 and 6 is exactly the same as that used throughout the whole of the order and there is no particular use of bold type face on pages 5 and 6. Paragraph 2 on page 5 under the heading “Liability to be committed to prison” does contain the following words:

    “Breach of any part of this order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment or fine. Accordingly, whether or not the Tipstaff arrests you, you may be summoned to attend court and, if you are found to be in breach of the order, you are liable to be committed to prison or fined.”

  4. In my view the use of those words in that paragraph on the fifth page of the order simply does not comply with, or satisfy at all, the requirements of rule 37.9(1). In the first place, the warning cannot be said to be “prominently displayed”. It is merely a part of several pages of somewhat indigestible text. In the second place, it most certainly does not appear, as the rule requires, “on the front of the copy of the…order”. It will be recalled that rule 37.9 is emphatic and prohibitive in its terms. Unless the penal notice is prominently displayed on the front of the copy of the order, “a judgment or order…may not be enforced…” In my view, the words “may not be enforced” where they appear in that rule do not import a discretion in the court. Rather, they are a mandatory direction to the court that it cannot and must not enforce the order by committal

 

The format of the Court orders, which Holman J has previously complained about, now mean that the vital component for a committal, that the front page of the order shows the person what they must do or must not do AND that the consequences for not doing it can be imprisonment.  At the moment, the first page is a lot of dry and dull rambling about who was present in Court that day and the dates of birth of everyone involved and yadda yadda yadda.

 

The Rules do provide a judicial discretion to proceed with the committal if there’s a flaw in the process but it is satisfied that no injustice would be caused to the defendant.

 

Here, the Judge considered that this did not apply.

14.  I do have a discretion under paragraph 13.2, but I can only exercise it “if satisfied that no injustice has been caused”. In support of her submission that no injustice has been caused, Ms. Chaudhry invited me to watch and listen to the video that the police officer made contemporaneously whilst visiting Mr Chaudhry and arresting him. As I understand it, this is a video made from some form of camera attached to the clothing of the police officer. I mention that, as that video forms part of the evidence or material upon which I base my decision in this case, I have ensured that it was available to be seen by the accredited journalist who is in the courtroom and the journalist has seen it. I would indeed have ensured that it was able to be seen by any member of the public who had shown any interest in this case and had been present at any stage during the hearing, although in fact there has been none. The whole duration of the visit by the police lasted about twenty minutes. I wish to stress that the two police officers appear to have handled this whole matter with the utmost courtesy and lightness of touch. From start to finish, there was nothing remotely heavy handed by either of them. Rather, they treated Mr Chaudhry with the utmost courtesy, respect and indeed patience, whilst ultimately arresting him with minimum formality. He went with them in the car, but at no stage was he placed in a handcuff nor handled physically in any way by the police. After being admitted to the house, the officers went into the front room immediately adjacent to the front door. They were holding two copies of the collection order and, therefore, a number of sheets of paper. They handed several sheets of paper, which I assume to be one copy of the six page collection order, to Mr Chaudhry, and the officer said “Have a big old read of that. There’s quite a lot there”. Mr Chaudhry sat down in an armchair and did for the next ten minutes or more hold the sheets of paper in his hand, but he hardly glanced at them at all. There is one moment in the video when he can be seen to be turning through the sheets of paper, but, even in that moment, he does not appear to have reached page 5, upon which such warning notice as this order contains is printed. At no stage, so far as I could discern, did either officer specifically draw the attention of Mr Chaudhry to that warning notice, nor indeed talk him through the language of the order at all. I do not say that necessarily critically of the officers; I merely record the fact that his attention was not specifically drawn to any particular part of the order and certainly not to such warning notice as appears on page 5. After the officers spoke on the telephone to the Tipstaff, they informed Mr Chaudhry that they must arrest him. They allowed him time to go upstairs and into the kitchen; and, as I have said, the whole process was gentle, orderly and sympathetic. As the two officers and Mr Chaudhry finally left the front door of the house, one officer said: “You can take the paper if you like so you can read it”. As Mr Chaudhry got into the back seat of the police car one can see that he did still have pieces of paper (which I assume are the order) in his hand, but there is no sign, at any rate at that stage, of his actually reading it. Before leaving the content of that video recording of the whole process, I mention that at one stage the officer said to Mr Chaudhry that “someone from the court will do a quick interview” with him. Frankly, I do not think that either Mr Chaudhry or either of the officers imagined for one moment, when they arrested him and took him away in the police car that night, that he was about to spend no less than thirteen nights continuously in custody. The picture and impression that was conveyed was that he would have to go to the police station under arrest and no doubt in custody perhaps for that night, but that he would then be visited and interviewed by “someone from the court” and probably released soon thereafter.

  1. The essential submission of Ms Chaudhry is that the officers did hand the order to Mr Chaudhry that day. The officer did say “Have a big old read of that” and an opportunity to read the order was undoubtedly afforded. Thus Mr Chaudhry might have been able to say to the officers “Please sit patiently while I now read through this whole order”. I have no doubt that if he had said that they would have permitted him to do so, but that is not in fact what happened. Further, Mr Main-Thompson has drawn my attention to paragraph 5 of the affidavit sworn by Mr Chaudhry on 12th August 2015. In that he says that he left school at fifteen before taking any exams:

    “I don’t have any academic qualifications. I was slow at school. I was always in the bottom set and I had extra classes, one to one with a teacher. Despite this I did not complete my secondary education. I need to read things, particularly official documents, many times before I can understand them fully. My spelling is not good…”

    The picture there is, therefore, of somebody with relatively little and unsuccessful education and no great ability to comprehend complex documents such as this order.

  2. Ms Chaudhry submits that I can, and should, be satisfied that no injustice has been caused to Mr Chaudhry by the defect that a penal notice in the required language was not prominently displayed on the front page of this order. Far from being satisfied that no injustice has been caused to him, I am personally quite clear that a great deal of injustice was caused to him. Rule 37.9 exists for a purpose. The purpose clearly is so that somebody in the position of Mr Chaudhry can see prominently and at once, the moment a lengthy order of this kind is given to him, what the gravity of the situation is and that he is at risk not merely of being arrested at the time, but of being committed to prison as a punishment for contempt of court.
  3. In my view, therefore, this is not a situation where I can waive the procedural defect. All applications to commit require proper adherence to the requirements of any enactment and rule of court. In the present case there is a serious defect in the order upon which the application to commit is based. I simply cannot commit Mr Chaudhry to prison for any breach of the order, however egregious. In my view that has the consequence that I must indeed strike out the application as a threshold decision, and Mr Chaudhry must not be required to give any evidence or to defend himself on the substance of this application. For those reasons, the application issued on 7th July 2015 to commit Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry to prison for contempt of court is struck out.

 

You may be reading this and think that it is potentially applicable to any order drawn up in the standard way, where the warning does not appear until page 5 of the order. And yes, it is certainly arguable.  Less so of course when the person is given substantial time to read the order before being in breach of it, and much less so if the person is present in court and represented when it was made and the Judge gives the warning about the consequences of breach. But yes, expect to see Re Dad being photocopied and handed out a LOT in committal cases until the standard orders get fixed.

 

And if you are drafting, until the orders get fixed, make sure you put the wording that’s normally on page 5 on the first page, in the biggest and boldest type that you can get away with.

 

Because at the moment, Re DAD is a

 

Don't push your luck in asking for the £200 though

Don’t push your luck in asking for the £200 though

Three months imprisonment for seeing your grand-daughter

 

Apologies for the Tabloid-esque heading, but it is a fairly succinct way of expressing the outcome of Derbyshire County Council v Kathleen Danby 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/B22.html

 

I know that for many of my regular contributors, the issue of commitals to prison for breaches of Court order are an emotive topic, and one can’t help but compare this sort of sentence with the sheets of criminal antecedents I regularly see where repeat offenders have convictions for burglary, theft, assaults, breaches of the peace, etc stretching to seven pages without spending any time at HerMajesty’s Pleasure.  On the other hand, if a Court makes an order to safeguard a vulnerable person and that order is breached, something has to happen to the person who breached the order, otherwise why bother making it.

I don’t have a solution here, but I have to wonder whether the sentences that are given for breaches of Court orders are somewhat out of kilter with sentences given for criminal  offences against children  (the grandmother in this case received a 3 month sentence for breaching a court order not to contact her granddaughter, and if she had instead been convicted of neglecting her the sentence would have been similar, when the latter would appear to most people to be the more serious issue)

 

I am mindful also that this is a sentence for an illicit contact in breach of a Court order, and the sentence is 3 months, in comparison to the six months that Mr Quasim Shah got for what seems to me to have been a much more serious (and possibly abusive) situation.  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/14/contempt-adult-breaching-a-recovery-order/    I would think that the general public, thinking about these two cases would have expected Mr Shah to have got a sentence much greater than twice what Ms Danby got for their relative transgressions.

 

Anyway, on with the case

 

The young person B, is 18 and has a learning disability. She had been the subject of care proceedings and is now the subject of Court of Protection proceedings. Within the latter set of proceedings, an order was made setting out things that her grandmother, Ms Danby, is prohibited from doing

 

“The Second Respondent Kathleen Danby is forbidden to do any of the following, either by herself or by instructing or encouraging another person to do so.

“(a) From approaching or attempting to approach B personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person so to do.

“(b) from communicating with B in any way whatsoever, whether in writing or by post, telephone, fax, text messaging, e-mail or any other form of telecommunication or information technology, including internet, video calling (i.e. Skype), whether directly or indirectly through another, save that she may receive a single telecommunication call from B on a loudspeaker and supervised by the local authority their servants and/or agents to take place on the first Wednesday of each calendar month between the hours seven o’clock p.m. and eight o’clock p.m. only in strict compliance with the declarations on the face and the schedule of the order of Her Honour Judge …” (it says “Taylor”) that should be “… Thomas of even date (annexed hereto).

“(c) For attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within J town (the town in which B’s placement is situated) either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(d) From attending at, entering or attempting to enter or go within 100 metres of XCollege, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(e) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres of Y placementeither personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.

“(f) From loitering within a radius of 100 metres X College, either personally or through instructing and/or encouraging any other person to do so.”

Ms Danby did not attend the committal hearing. She would have been entitled to do so, and entitled to free legal representation. I do not know why she did not attend and it would be wrong to speculate.

The Court heard evidence about three alleged breaches of that order

 

 

“In breach of paragraph 1(b) of the injunction order on or before 28th February 2014 Kathleen Danby through herself and/or instructed or encouraged another person contacted and/or communicated with B to arrange to meet her 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, next door to Y Placement (the placement). 

“2. In breach of paragraph 1(a) of the injunction order on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.27 hours Kathleen Danby met with B at or about 17.27 hours outside the Z public house, which is adjacent to the driveway of B’s placement, and passed to B a package, who immediately concealed it about her person.

“3. In breach of paragraph 1(e) on or about 28th February 2014 at or about 17.23 hours loitered within 100 metres of Y placement with the intention of meeting of B.”

 

The Court heard, in relation to those matters, evidence that B had effectively given her carers the slip on 28th February and that CCTV footage showed her meeting with and talking to an elderly lady, identified by people who know her as being Kathleen Danby.  B returned to her carers very animated and talking about having seen her grandmother, and her behaviour was later adversely affected, including attempts to self-harm.

 

 

  • on 28th of February. On that day I am persuaded, not on a balance of probabilities but because I am certain, that B had a meeting with her grandmother. P.C. Hamilton has seized CCTV footage from the X public house which shows the road from the pub which is next to the driveway to Y Placement where B lives and he sets out what can be seen very clearly in his written evidence. He says this:

 

 

“I viewed the footage in a private office inside the pub. The footage shows a lady, who I can describe as being white, approximately sixty-five-years, approximately five foot four inches in height and had prominent white hair that is collar length. She enters the pub by the front door at 17.21 and camera 13. The footage then shows the lady walked to the rear of the pub and going to the toilets. The lady is then seen leave the pub by the front entrance at 17.23 and stand towards the edge of the camera footage close to the pub car park. At 17.27 B is then seen running towards the lady with arms open wide and immediately hugs the lady who is seen reciprocating. They then stand in the same position for a few minutes during which a car parks, pulling up, parking across the road. The lady and B then walk back up towards the pub entrance and some items are passed between the two.” [In fact I think it is one item that I saw]. “The lady is lastly seen handing something to B. The pair split up with B walking over to the car and the lady walked past the entrance to the pub, past the entrance to Y placement.”

 

  • He himself says he never had seen the original picture of Mrs. Danby, so he cannot personally identify her, but for reasons I shall come to it is clear that it is she.

 

 

 

  • What is also clear from that CCTV footage alone is that the lady concerned was loitering, as is complained of by the local authority, in the area nearby to the Y placement, so that of itself is of course partly a breach of the injunction.

 

 

 

  • I have said that this lady is the grandmother of B is absolutely clear. It is clear not just from the intimate way in which the two greeted each other and the passing of items, but because it is clear that B went on to describe the meeting to Mr A as being with her grandmother. For that night she was due to go out to another care home. She had been having difficulties with her co-resident and Mr. A was taking her to a different home for the evening to have time to cool down. He was waiting for a taxi to take them and at 5.30, approximately, he saw B speaking to an elderly woman. When the taxi came he called to her, but she did not initially come. He got in the taxi, it moved slightly along the road, then he shouted for her to come over and eventually she did and she came over to the taxi and got in.

 

 

 

  • He noted that for the rest of the evening that B was “hyper”, to use his word, but she said this to him: “I bet you’d like to know who that is.” And he said he didn’t. “No, that was my grandmother.” “Which grandmother?” “The one from Scotland.” “She’s come all that way?” “She came to see me.” It was thereafter for the rest of the night that B kept discussing both her grandmother and her father in considerable detail. Indeed, she had with her that night a DVD that her grandmother had previously supplied to her of her life going to school when she was a young girl.

 

 

 

  • So it would seem that B knew whom she was going to meet and knew precisely what was going to happen and so it is clear, in my judgment, that there had been a pre-arranged meeting. It is beyond mere coincidence that B should be in the street at the very same time as her grandmother from Scotland was in the area waiting too as if there was an appointment to meet. It must have been pre-arranged; it could not be a mere accident.

 

 

 

  • There is further corroboration for it being the grandmother in the evidence of Mr H for he says this on discussing matters with B on 4th of March.

 

 

“I then asked B about her meeting on 28th of February with her grandmother. B said her grandmother had come to see if she was okay and safe as F had told her grandmother she had previously absconded and been missing. I asked her if her grandmother had given her anything. She said she had not. I said the police had CCTV footage of the meeting and the police have stated that Mrs. Danby handed B an envelope/package which B then concealed in her top/jacket. She said the police were lying about this. She then became agitated and appears to be low in mood. She stated she did not want to talk further.”

 

  • P.C. Hamilton spoke to B on 1st of March. She denied seeing her grandmother then, though it is plain from what she said both the evening before and to Mr. H that she did. He noted that B’s behaviour has been deteriorating, even though, as the local beat bobby, he has noticed that she has become more settled generally whilst at Y Placement– in other words, it was the events of late February of this year that have made her more volatile and unpredictable.

 

 

 

  • Ms C tells me of further events on 2nd of March. B absconded again on that date and on 6th of March she absconded from a holiday in Rhyl in North Wales. She describes the recent behaviour of B as deteriorating and out of character. Evidence that is corroborated further by Mr. H and by Ms B.

 

 

 

  • So it is that in my view I can be satisfied beyond doubt, I am satisfied to the criminal standard of proof, that the breaches of injunction complained of by the local authority are all made out.

 

 

 

The Court satisfied itself to the criminal standard of proof that there had been a breach of the Court order, and went on to consider sentence

 

 

  • The evidence, as I observed at the final hearing of her future residence and care plans, pointed unequivocally for the need for her to have a period of peace from intervention in her life from her grandmother and her father, hence the final orders that I made.

 

 

 

  • I am sure, too, that the deterioration in her behaviour results from these meetings with her grandmother. Her behaviour has deteriorated; she has self-harmed; she has assaulted staff; she has threatened her co-resident and she has run away. Not in a sense that she disappears by being an hour late, which she does from time to time as is perhaps typical late teenage behaviour, but because she literally runs away and has to be found with the help of the police.

 

 

 

  • Accordingly, I take a serious view of the behaviour of Kathleen Danby and it is plain to me that unless restrained by serious punishment she will simply continue to behave the way she has.

 

 

 

  • I remind myself that the case of Hale v. Tanner sets out that punishment is not the aim of the court, but rather to express its concern at breaches of its orders and the need to effect protection. In those circumstances, in my judgment, there should be a suitable punishment.

 

 

 

  • Miss Cavanagh has reminded me of the options available to me – although of course the local authority has not had the temerity to tell me what to do. I could impose a custodial sentence and then order the case to be listed before me for review. So, I could issue a warrant and then if this lady is arrested or on the review date, as the case maybe, the sentence can be reviewed and it can be reviewed downwards if I have a wrong impression of this lady’s attitude and approach.

 

 

 

  • In the circumstances for each and every one of these breaches of the injunction I shall sentence this lady to three months’ imprisonment concurrently.

 

Ms Danby would have the opportunity to come before the Court to ‘purge her contempt’  that is, to give an apology for her behaviour and an explanation for it, in the hope of the Court ending her sentence or reducing it. That may be more likely in this case because she did not attend.

 

The Commital-ments

Two recent cases on committals – one resulting in a suspended sentence, one resulting in the commital being dismissed on some interesting techicalities.

The first :-  Re Roberts 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2013/1.html

A warning shot across the bows, in relation to parents publishing material on the internet that would identify their child as being the subject of care proceedings.

In this case, Mr Roberts undertook some filming at Derby County Court, and also published on the internet documents which identified that his child was the subject of care proceedings, which is unlawful.  He had also given an undertaking not to do this sort of thing and breached that undertaking.

He was given a sentence of 6 weeks custody, suspended on the basis of him undertaking not to do this again.  (if he does it again, he will serve 6 weeks, plus whatever additional sentence is imposed for the later offence)

Of course, there is a lively and spirited debate at present as to whether parents should be able to do that, but unless and until the law is changed, doing this sort of thing presents a very serious risk to the parent of committal proceedings.  It is particularly worth noting the judicial comment here that breaches of this kind are bound to attract a prison term.

I’m not going to get into the merits of whether the law should change to allow Mr Roberts to do this, to publicise his case and speak out about whatever injustice he considers has been done to his family – the judgment is a cautionary tale that the law STILL applies to people even where they consider it to be unfair or foolish, and that there are serious risks attached to breaching the law.

I would add that as more and more litigants in person come into the family law system, the more vital it is to have clear and easy to follow rules about what can and cannot be said by a parent about the ongoing court case. The President’s direction of travel towards more openness is going to make it even more important that parents know exactly what the rules are.

It is such a short judgment, I can publish it in full. Note in particular, my underlined passages for emphasis.

RE MR PAUL ROBERTS

1.     On the 19 June 2013, Mr Paul Roberts appeared before His Honour Judge Orrell at the Derby Combined Court Centre; Mr Roberts was assisted by Mrs Jacque Courtnage, acting as a McKenzie friend.

2.     Mr Roberts admitted breaches of an order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012 and breaches of an undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013, namely:

3.     He allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

4.     He published on the Internet images and letters from the local authority which identify W by name as a child who had been removed from her parents’ care and been made the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

5.     On the 1 May 2013, he allowed himself to be filmed in the Derby Combined Court Centre and in the film he identified J by name as a child who had been removed from his parents’ care and had been the subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989.

6.     The above matters were breaches of the order made by Mr Justice Hedley.

7.     In breach of his undertaking, on the 1 May 2013, Mr Roberts disclosed information about the proceedings under the Children Act 1989 concerning J to a third party whilst allowing himself to be filmed including filming in the court building before the hearing in these proceedings on that day.

8.     In respect of the breaches, Mr Roberts was committed to 6 weeks custody to run concurrently in respect of each breach; the term of committal was suspended on condition that he complied with the terms of each of the following: [i] the order made by Mr Justice Hedley on the 14 June 2012, [ii] the order made by His Honour Judge Orrell on the 1 May 2013 within these proceedings and [iii] the undertaking given by Mr Roberts on the 12 April 2013.

9.     The sentencing remarks were as follows. The order and the undertaking were to protect a child in care. Any breach of that sort of undertaking is bound to attract a prison term. Breaches by talking to the sort of people you did was extremely reckless. On this occasion I will suspend the inevitable sentence in the hope you will not again risk going to prison.

His Honour Judge Orrell

And now, the second

In the Matter of an application by Her Majesty’s Solicitor General for the committal to prison of Jennifer Marie Jones for alleged contempt of court 2013

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/application-matter-of-jennifer-jones-21082013.pdf

And this involved a mother who defied orders of the High Court that the children should be handed over to the father, who proposed to live with them in Spain.  She not only did not hand them over, she in effect went on the lam, and was finally found hiding out in a guesthouse in Gwent.

The two older children refused to go to their father, and even though the order transferring residence remained in force, they continued to live with their mother in Wales.

An application to commit the mother for contempt was brought, the trial Judge having asked the Attorney General to consider the case.

An issue arose as to whether there had in fact, been a breach of the order made by Hedley J, that underpinned the committal application. That order was as follows :-

“It is ordered that:

1 Jessica … Tomas … Eva … and David … shall be returned forthwith to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain pursuant to the provisions of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

2 Paragraph 1 above shall be given effect as follows

(a) The children shall return to Spain accompanied by the father on a flight scheduled to depart from England and Wales no later than 24.00 hours on 12 October 2012 (00.00 hours on 13 October 2013); and

(b) The mother shall deliver up the children into the care of the father, or cause the children so to be delivered up, at Cardiff Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012”

Paragraph 1 does not place any obligation on the mother to do this, para 2 (a) relates only to the father, leaving only para 2 (b).  It is clear that the mother DID NOT deliver up the children.

 

18.  The Solicitor General does not base any allegation of contempt on a breach of paragraph 1 of Hedley J’s order. He was right to adopt that stance, for paragraph 1 was not an injunction, whether in form or in effect. First, paragraph 1 was not addressed to anyone in particular. It directed, in the abstract as it were, that something was to be done. But it did not order the mother, or anybody else for that matter, to do something: see the analysis in Re HM (Vulnerable Adult: Abduction) (No 2) [2010] EWHC 1579 (Fam), [2011] 1 FLR 97. Secondly, paragraph 1 did not specify any time for compliance, and that omission is fatal: Temporal v Temporal [1990] 2 FLR 98.

 

19        In relation to paragraph 2 of Hedley J’s order, the Solicitor General, as we have seen, puts his case on two different footings. First, he says that the mother was in breach in failing to deliver up the children by 4pm on 12 October 2012. Secondly, he says that she continued to breach the order by failing to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012, which breach, he alleges, continued until 17 October 2012

That seems, on the face of it, to be a legitimate argument. The mother was aware that she had to deliver the children into the father’s care at Cardiff Railway station, no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012. And she didn’t do that. That looks and smells like a breach. But wait.

20    There is, in my judgment, simply no basis in law upon which the Solicitor General can found an allegation of contempt for anything done or omitted to be done by the mother at any time after 4pm on 12 October 2012. Paragraph 2(b) of the order was quite specific. It required the mother to do something by 4pm on 12 October 2012. It did not, as a matter of express language, require her to do anything at any time thereafter, nor did it spell out what was to be done if, for any reason, there had not been compliance by the specified time. In these circumstances there can be no question of any further breach, as alleged in the Solicitor General’s notice of application, by the mother’s failure to deliver up the children after 4pm on 12 October 2012 or, as alleged in the application, any continuing breach thereafter until 17 October 2012 when she and the children were found.

 

 

The President ruling therefore that mother could not have been in breach for not surrendering up the children AFTER 4pm on 12th October, as the order did not require her to do so.  So she was NOT in continued breach, and her actions in going on the run with the children wasn’t any part of the breach for which she could be committed. And she couldn’t be breaching the order by not delivering up the children BEFORE the deadline. That meant that the only possible breach was her not delivering the children to father’s care AT 4pm.

(So, she was possibly only in breach of the order for a minute, as by 4.01pm, the requirement on her had lapsed.)

22. The present case is a particularly striking example of the impossibility of reading in some implied term. What the order required the mother to do was to:

“deliver up the children into the care of the father … at Cardiff

Railway Station at no later than 4pm on 12 October 2012.”

Suppose that for some reason she failed to do that. What then did the order require her to do? Deliver the children to the father at Cardiff Railway Station or at some other (and if so what) place? And assuming it was to be at Cardiff Railway Station by what time and on what day? Or was she (to adopt the language of a subsequent proposed order) to return, or cause the return of, the children to the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Spain by no later than a specified date and time? It is simply impossible to say. Speculation founded on uncertainty is no basis upon which anyone can be committed for contempt.

23.I do not want to be misunderstood. If someone has been found to be in breach of a mandatory order by failing to do the prescribed act by the specified time, then it is perfectly appropriate to talk of the contemnor as remaining in breach thereafter until such time as the breach has been remedied. But that pre-supposes that there has in fact been a breach and is relevant only to the question of whether, while he remains in breach, the contemnor should be allowed to purge his contempt. It does not justify the making of a (further) committal order on the basis of a further breach, because there has in such a case been no further breach. When a mandatory order is not complied with there is but a single breach: Kumari v Jalal [1997] 1 WLR 97. If in such circumstances it is desired to make a further committal order – for example if the sentence for the original breach has expired without compliance on the part of the contemnor – then it is necessary first to make another order specifying another date for compliance, followed, in the event of non-compliance, by an application for committal for breach not of the original but of the further order: see Re W (Abduction: Committal) [2011] EWCA Civ 1196, [2012] 2 FLR 133.

24.  It follows that the only question which properly arises on the present application is whether the mother was in breach of paragraph 2(b) of Hedley J’s order by reason of events down to 4pm on 12 October 2012.

At this point, one suspects that those bringing the committal application were beginning to quail. They probably considered that the mother was “bang to rights” but that sense of confidence was dissipating.

The next issue was then, whether the mother was actually flouting the order of Hedley J, or whether through forces beyond her control, she had been unable to comply with the order by getting to the train station at 4.00pm.

As luck would have it, before the mother had set off on the journey, the children had run away and the police were called and her departure was delayed, making it impossible for her to get to Cardiff train station by 4pm (or at worst, there being a reasonable doubt that it was impossible)

The Judge found therefore, that it was not proven to the criminal standard of proof that it had been physically possible for her to comply with the order to deliver up the children at 4pm, the mother had NOT breached that order, and that the order as drafted placed no obligation on her to do anything subsequent to 4pm (i.e she didn’t have to deliver the children to father’s care after that time), so the committal application had to fail.

It is therefore, a very important lesson in drafting terms in an order that might be enforced – one has to be clear what the mandatory obligation on the party is, and what the timescales for compliance are. Had the order been that mother must deliver the children to father’s care by 4pm on 12 October 2012 or in the event of that not being possible, that there was an obligation for her to deliver the children into his care at any time after and by the latest by 4pm on 19th October 2012, she might well have been in breach.

The events of 12 October 2012 – the facts

29. I turn at last to the central issue in the case: the close and careful scrutiny of the events of the crucial day, 12 October 2012. In fact, as I shall explain, the relevant inquiry focuses on an even narrower time-span: the period from 1.39pm to 2.56pm on the afternoon of 12 October 2012.

30. The unchallenged evidence of the mother, based on a Google printout, is that her home in Llanelli is 54.4 miles from Cardiff Railway Station, and that the journey by car along the M4 takes about 64 minutes. So, in order to get to Cardiff by 4pm they would have had to leave by 2.56pm at the latest. Also unchallenged was her evidence that she had arranged the loan of a friend’s 8-seater people carrier at 2.30pm to take herself and the four children to Cardiff and that, having herself packed the younger children’s luggage, at about 1pm she told the two older children to go upstairs to pack. At 1.37pm (the time is fixed by his mobile phone) Mr Williams received a telephone call from his daughter, who was driving past the house, to say that she could see Jessica on the flat roof outside her bedroom window and Thomas outside the house with his bag (apparently he had jumped down off the flat roof). Mr Williams went upstairs and pulled Jessica back into the house. She gave him the slip and ran out of the house and away with Thomas, Mr Williams in pursuit. He telephoned the police: the call was logged at 1.39pm. None of this is challenged by Ms Cumberland. So the crucial inquiry narrows down to the 77 minutes or so between 1.39pm and 2.56pm.

 

31. In relation to what happened during that period I am dependent in large part on the accounts given by the mother and Mr Williams. Both, as I have said, made witness statements and gave oral evidence. Their accounts can be summarised as follows: Mr Williams set off in pursuit, giving the police a running commentary on the phone: this is borne out by the police log. The children were found in the public library and collected by the police; the police log records them as being in the process of being taken back to the police station at 2.1pm. While they were being taken to the police station Mr Williams returned home and told the mother she was needed at the police station. Her friend Allyson Thomas took her there in her car. On her arrival – at about 2.30pm she thinks, perhaps a little earlier – she had to wait some time on her own. She then had a conversation with a police officer, who told her what the children had been saying. Only then was she able to see the children herself. Eventually they all returned home. A police log records at 4.59pm that they had left the police station “approx 1 hour ago” but the mother and Mr Williams think this is wrong and that they had in fact left somewhat earlier; the mother recalls her friend being anxious to get back in time to get her son to work by 4pm.

32. Having heard both of them giving evidence and being cross-examined, I accept this account as given by the mother and Mr Williams. They were, I think, being honest and doing their best to be accurate in what they said. Partly, this is a conclusion I arrive at having seen the way in which they gave their evidence. This was not some glib rehearsed account. The mother in particular was thoughtful, giving every appearance of trying to recall – to visualise – what had been happening that afternoon. Nor did she seek to put any kind of ‘spin’ on her account. If anything, quite the reverse. She did not seek to use the entry in the police log as showing that she had left the police station later than the time she recalled. And, significantly, she made no bones about the fact that as soon as she was reunited with the children in the police station she made it clear to them that they were not going back to Spain, nor about the fact that she repeated this to all the children at or soon after 4pm once she and the two older children had returned from the police station.

33. It is clear, both from her own account and from the police logs, that the mother told the police that she had to get the children to Cardiff by 4pm, and that she explained why. The police logs show that she was told it was a matter for her, and not the police. The mother’s account is that, whilst she was at the police station talking to the officer before being reunited with the children, he gave her an account of what they had told him and expressed his own opinion as being that Jessica was a danger to herself and others on the plane.

34. Apart from the police logs I have no account from the police of events at the police station. None of the officers gave evidence.

            Mr Hames submits that in these circumstances there is a clear answer to the critical question, Was it within her power to comply with the order, could she do it, was she able to do it? She could not. Through no fault of her own, and having made every effort to arrange a timely departure that would get them all to Cardiff by 4pm, the mother’s plans were frustrated: two of the children ran away, and whenever precisely it was that she left the police station it was on any footing well after 3pm, and probably nearer to 3.30pm – too late to get to Cardiff in time. As a fallback position, Mr Hames points out that it is for the Solicitor General to prove the case, and, moreover, to the criminal standard of proof. He submits that I simply cannot be sure that it was within the mother’s power to comply.

             

36. Ms Cumberland points to the mother’s frank admission of what she said to the children, to the fact that the mother, on her own account, made no effort to get the two younger children to Cardiff, and to the fact that, again on the mother’s own account, by shortly after 4pm she had embarked on a course of conduct that, far from trying to make alternative arrangements with the father, led to them all going on the run.

37. I can see the force of what Ms Cumberland says, and cannot help thinking that the mother has, quite fortuitously, been able to take advantage of two things that are unlikely to re-occur: one the serendipitous happenstance that the children ran away; the other that nothing which happened after 4pm is capable of being a contempt of court. So I have to come back to the critical question: Was it within the mother’s power to get the children back home from the police station in time for them all to leave for Cardiff no later than 2.56pm? Ms Cumberland says that it was: no-one had been arrested, everyone was free to leave the police station whenever they wished, and in any event there was nothing going on in the police station that would have prevented the two younger children being taken to Cardiff.

38. At the end of the day I am concerned with what is essentially a question of fact arising in most unusual circumstances. I have to put myself in the mother’s shoes as she is in the police station during the half hour or so between her arriving there at about 2.30pm and the time – 2.56pm – by which she has to leave for Cardiff. Two of her children have run away and been taken by the police to the police station. She has to wait, before receiving worrying information from the officer and only then being able to see her children. However the lawyer might subsequently analyse what had happened, the reality is that the mother was, metaphorically if not literally, in the hands of the police and having to work to their timetable. It is far from clear on all the evidence that the mother had been reunited with the children by 2.56pm – perhaps, but then perhaps not – and on that fact alone, in my judgment, the Solicitor General fails to prove his case.

 

Standing back from the detail, it is for the Solicitor General to prove that, as events worked themselves out on the afternoon of 12 October 2012, it was within the mother’s power to leave Llanelli by 2.56pm so that she could get the children to Cardiff Railway Station by 4pm. In my judgment he has failed to do so. The application must accordingly be dismissed

[Postscript – this is yet another one of those cases where a hugely important point was being litigated and the party did not obtain public funding. The mother was represented by pro bono counsel, who probably kept her out of prison, and hence at least some of her children still with her. The President spoke out afterwards about how unacceptable it is that such important issues are litigated relying on good will of lawyers acting for free.  http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/family-judge-criticises-reliance-free-representation  ]