Sister imprisoned for breaching Court Order in Family proceedings
The November 2018 case of Hart v Hart* took an interesting turn when the sister of one of the primary parties was handed a three month custodial sentence.
The issues stemmed from her brother’s divorce and subsequent financial remedies matter which produced a financial remedy order (or Consent Order).
The terms of this order stated that the husband (brother) should transfer his shares in a company to the wife. This did not happen so the wife made an application to enforce the terms of the order.
The sister was the sole director of the company in question and the sister and a third party held the shares for the wife and husband.
A second company which was controlled by the husband, and of which the sister was the sole director and shareholder, controlled the company subject of the application. Both the sister and the company were joined to the enforcement proceedings.
The Court made orders setting out that the husband, sister and second company must provide documents and information but they repeatedly failed to do so. The wife therefore applied to the Court for those named to be committed to prison for their failures and the sister and second company were held to be in contempt of Court (the brother having already been held in contempt in March 2018 whereupon he was handed a fourteen month custodial sentence).
At the sentencing hearing the presiding Judge HHJ Wildblood QC did not deem it appropriate to impose a separate penalty upon the second company because at all relevant times the sister had been the sole director and shareholder.
The Judge held that the sister’s contempt had been “deliberate, damaging, sustained and motivated” and she was aware of the repercussions this would have upon the wife.
The Judge did consider the sister’s mitigating factors which were her age, good character, ill health, her lack of an “extensive history of poor engagement” in proceedings unlike her brother, as well as what the Judge described as her “misplaced loyalty” towards her brother.
Even in consideration of these points the sister was handed a three month prison sentence for the part she played in order to reflect the seriousness of the contempt. The issue was deemed too serious for a suspended sentence and the sister will serve half of her sentence in custody.
The outcome of this hearing sends a clear message to those who have ample opportunity to comply with Orders of the Court but fail to do so. The Courts will be robust in their approach and are increasingly willing to impose custodial sentences upon repeat offenders. A warning should come across loud and clear that this can and will include those who are not necessarily primary parties to proceedings which can of course also include family members.
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*Hart v Hart  EWHC 2966 (Fam) (05 November 2018)