Committal Proceedings and Contempt of Court
7/12 County Courts Act Offences and High Court Certifications
This e-bulletin is part of a series covering contempt of court in all its forms and the series is designed to be relevant to all practice areas. Richard Shepherd has been commissioned by Lexis Nexis to draft their Professional Practice Notes on the subject. Albion Chambers is delighted that we have been granted permission by Lexis Nexis to share these guides with our instructing solicitors and professional clients before they have been published online. The next e-bulletins in the series will be published every Tuesday morning.
This e-bulletin is not intended to cover the individual peculiarities of the diverse range committal-type actions that may be taken when a proposed contemnor is in breach of the County Courts Act or a High Court Certification.
This bulletin should be read in conjunction with the previously published e-bulletins “Nuts and Bolts” and “Sentencing”, which give a broad overview of these types of proceedings.
County Courts Act 1984 (general contempts)
There are a number of separate, although similarly themed, offences under the County Courts Act 1984.
They are dealt with by CPR 81.33 onwards and cover the following offences:
Assaulting a court officer (s.14 CCA)
Rescuing or attempting to rescue goods seized (s.92 CCA)
Wilfully (s.118 CCA)
(1) insulting a judge, juror, witness or court officer
(2) interrupting court proceedings
(3) other misbehaving in court
Failure of court officer to levy execution (s.124 CCA)
If the alleged contemnor has not yet been taken into custody the court must issue a summons which must be personally served at least seven days prior to the proposed committal hearing.
County Courts Act 1984 (less common offences)
The County Court Act 1984 also lists a number of other possible offences, the punishment of which falls short of the imprisonment. As such, they fall outside of this series of practice notes.
In any event because these actions are generally instigated by the courts/judge the onerous requirements usually placed on an applicant in other committal-type proceedings do not generally apply. As a result, these matters can be dealt with in this practice note relatively shortly.
High Court Certifications
CPR 81.15 describes this power as follows;
“…the High Court has power to punish or take steps for the punishment of any person charged with having done or omitted to do anything in relation to a court, tribunal, body or person which, if it had been an act or omission in relation to the High Court, would have been a contempt of that court.”
High Court Certifications are derived from individual statutes. They permit the High Court to exercise those statutory powers to commit an individual for contempt.
These statutory powers include (but are not limited to):
Companies Act 1985 (ss.436 and 453C) (via Administrative Court)
Charities Act 2011 (s. 336) (via Chancery Division)
Data Protection Act 1998 (Sch 6, para 8) (via Administrative Court)
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Ss 18, 161 and 232) (via Administrative Court)
If an application or certification is to be made it must be on the form prescribed by Practice Direction 81 at Annex A.
Like other contempts the High Court has the power to waive the procedural requirements (for further information see the e-bulletin “Discontinuance, Defects and Strike Outs”.
Despite this apparent flexibility a practitioner should endeavour to comply with all requirements. Post Mitchell in particular, compliance (or not) with the CPR has gained a prominent position in the Courts’ decision making processes. Contempt of court cases are littered with failed applications caused by breaches of the procedural requirements, further details of which can be found in the previously published e-bulletin “See Practice Note: Discontinuance, Defects and Strike Outs”.
To accompany the Annex A application form the applicant must include:
A detailed statement of the grounds
Any written evidence relied on
Any other documents required for the disposal of the application
Although there is little directly applicable case law dealing with High Court Certifications, it is suggested that a strict adherence to the applicant’s requirements will be necessary.
For instance, where reference is made to “Any written evidence”, it is suggested that this will equate to the provision under 81.14(1)(b) of “an affidavit setting out the facts and exhibiting all documents relied upon”. If this suggestion is correct, the authorities such as Makdessi v Cavendish Square Holdings BV & others (committal)  EWCA Civ 1540 may be persuasive, namely that “’All’ means all.”
As per PD 81 annex B, within 14 days of the personal service the respondent must:
File and serve an acknowledgment of service on the prescribed form, and
may file and serve evidence
Compare the word ‘may’ in relation to the respondent’s obligations to serve evidence with ‘must’ for the applicant’s.
Next Tuesday’s e-bulletin will examine Non-compliance with a Court Order or Solicitor’s Undertakings.