Contempt is the sledge hammer by which the Court, enforces its will upon those before it, or within it. It is draconian, and on occasions unfair, but it is a necessary tool, by which the Court, can ensure that its orders are obeyed.
Not all breaches of an order are contemptible, fail to pay your bills, get a County Court Judgement against you, requiring to pay in 21 days, if you don't pay you will not be in contempt. You won't generally even fall within the Debtors Act 1869, which abolishes imprisonment generally for debt, but does allow it in certain circumstances.
Every person who is accused of contempt of court, is entitled to free representation, on a non means, non merits basis. As such even Prince Charles if accused of contempt, could pop along to his local high street firm, and obtain free representation from any firm in the country.
A common misconception particularly by civil firms is that they must have a criminal contract. That misconception is clearly not correct and one that must be remedied. Any firm whether it has a legal aid contract or not, and or whether it is civil or criminal, makes no difference, legal aid is available for all, no matter what. The guidance is relatively clear in the LAA guidance.
Once a party has representation and an advocate of their choice, they have further rights. The right to silence, the right to reasonable time for preparation of their case, the right to know the case against them, and most importantly the right to have the case against them proved beyond all reasonable doubt.
CPR 81, and its Practice Direction, are vital essential check lists of what will or will not make a fair trial. Specialist litigators and advocates should also have access to the leading text books such as Arlidge, Eady & Smith on Contempt or Borrie and Lowe: The Law of Contempt which offer insight into more specialist parts of the area of law.
The Debtors Act 1869, provides the general accomplishment of prison for debt, with exceptions contained within Section 4, which provides for up to a year imprisonment if you fall within. Section 5, reserves the right to imprison for up to six weeks, for certain debts normally related to family matters. It is important to note that the six weeks does not extinguish the debt, and indeed, you can be imprisoned again, and again until you pay the debt.
The law also provides that not all orders to pay, or transfer money falls within the Debtors Act. For instances an order to pay money into Court does not provide for the protection within the Debtors Act. Only monies which are ordinary debts, and or paid to the Claimant fall within the protection.
If accused of a contempt, as soon as you receive the papers, contact a litigator, ask for legal aid, and get them the papers, so they can apply. Within 24 hours they should be able to obtain funding, and go on record for you with the Court. Often the first attendance will be to make arrangements for the final hearing. If found guilty or an admission is made, the case will normally be adjourned in order to obtain the necessary mitigation statements in the matter.
Do not delay seeking a lawyer to assist you, that each day you wait is a reduction in the discount given to you, should you wish to admit the offending behaviour. For more guidance please see the pages on contempt.
Adam is a solicitor advocate, and regularly appears in the High Court and Court of Appeal dealing with some of the most complex and interesting public law cases.