Guidance on the Practice Direction on Committal for Contempt of Court

Sarah Speller

On 24 June, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, issued Practice Guidance on Committal for Contempt of Court. The Guidance is intended to clarify aspects of the Practice Direction on Committal for Contempt issued in March 2015 (see our post here), which explained the operation of the fundamental principle that applications for committal of contempt of court should be heard, decided and carried out in public.

Notifying the press of committal hearings

The Guidance confirms that the Practice Direction only requires the press to be notified in advance of a committal hearing in two situations:

  • where it is not possible to list the hearing in the public court list the day it is due to take place; and
  • where the court is considering (either on an application by the parties or of its own initiative) holding the committal hearing in private.

When the court should provide public details of the contempt and punishment

The Guidance then goes on to clarify the application of paragraph 13 of the Practice Direction (which provides that in all cases where the court makes a finding of contempt, it must state in public and provide to the national media (regardless of whether the hearing itself was in public or private) details of the person in contempt, the nature of that contempt and the punishment imposed). It explains that paragraph 13 only applies where the court has made a finding of contempt and made either an order for committal or a suspended committal order. It does not apply where the court makes any other order following a finding of contempt. Where paragraph 13 applies, the guidance lays down a set format by which the court should provide the required information.

Application to procedure for obtaining information from judgment debtors

The Practice Direction does not apply to the procedure in CPR Rules 71.8(1) and (2), which applies where a judgment debtor who has been ordered to provide information fails to attend court or refuses to take an oath or to comply with an order from the court. In that situation, a written reference can be made to a High Court Judge or Circuit Judge seeking a committal order against the judgment debtor. This is because paragraph 7.1 of the Practice Direction to Part 71 provides that the committal order will be suspended if the judgment debtor attends court at a time and place specified in that order. The Practice Direction does, however, apply to any hearing under Rule 71.8(4)(b) (this is where the judgment debtor has failed to comply with any of the terms on which the committal order was suspended, and is brought back before the court to consider whether the committal order should be discharged).

Application to attachment of earnings procedure

The Practice Direction applies to the attachment of earnings procedure in Order 27 of the County Court Rules to the same extent as it does to CPR Part 71, i.e. it only applies to hearings to consider the breach of suspended committal orders.

Review of the Practice Direction on Committal

Finally, the Guidance indicates that the operation of the Practice Direction will be reviewed in October 2015.

Sarah Speller and Samir Al-Khatib (Work experience student)

 

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