Contempt of court: the prospect of prison, even before proceedings are issued
Civil contempt is conduct that is not itself a crime but is conduct which is punishable by the court to ensure that court orders are observed. Deliberately disobeying an order of the court or breaching an undertaking given in the course of litigation are common examples of conduct that constitutes a civil contempt.
If an allegation of contempt can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, the court has the power to punish a civil contempt by making an order for committal to prison for a period of up to two years, a financial penalty or confiscation of assets.
From 1 October 2020, a new, much condensed, Part 81 of the Civil Procedure Rules sets out the practices and procedures for contempt applications (the “new Part 81”).
The previous Part 81 (which came into effect in 2012) has been referred to as complicated, repetitive and poorly drafted. In redrafting the new Part 81 the aim was to streamline the rules relating to contempt to ensure they are easier to operate, with the intention of reducing the instances where procedural unfairness is found.
The new Part 81 has been reduced in size considerably from 38 rules, two practice directions and a practice guidance, to just 10 brief rules. Those 10 rules largely omit the substantive law (found in the previous Part 81) and focus on the procedure. In addition, the relevant court forms will also be streamlined.
The main changes include the following:
Ultimately, for those bringing or defending contempt proceedings, whether in person or with legal representation, the new, streamlined rules should make the process a simpler and fairer one.
For further information on this topic, please refer to see some of our other recent blogs:
Fiona Simpson is a partner in our dispute resolution team. She specialises in civil fraud litigation, advising clients bringing or defending civil fraud proceedings, often involving injunctions and often with an international dimension. Fiona regularly advises on freezing orders and asset tracing.
Fiona also advises clients in commercial dispute resolution matters including breach of contract, partnership disputes and shareholder/director disputes.
Abigail Onslow is an associate in the Dispute Resolution team. Abigail works on a broad range of contentious matters including general commercial and contractual disputes, civil fraud cases and contentious trusts and probate claims
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