When it comes to deliberately breaching court orders, saying sorry after the event is often not enough. In one case, a businessman received a stiff prison sentence after his abject apologies for failing to comply with an evidence disclosure order left a judge unmoved.
Two property investors alleged that they were the victims of a scam perpetrated by the businessman and his brother through various companies that they were said to control. After the investors launched proceedings, they obtained money judgments against the businessman and two companies. The businessman’s personal judgment debt came to over £1.6 million before interest.
Enforcement proceedings followed and the investors obtained a number of orders against the businessman, requiring him to disclose evidence in his possession or control concerning his means and what had been done with relevant funds. The investors subsequently launched contempt proceedings seeking his committal to prison for failing to comply with one of those orders.
Ruling on the matter, the judge noted that, late on the evening before the case came on for hearing, the businessman admitted breaching the order and disclosed various documents in partial compliance with its terms. He accepted that he had had plenty of time to comply with the order and offered his profuse apologies.
The judge, however, noted that expressions of apology are cheap. There was no evidence that the businessman was genuinely remorseful, rather than just being dismayed at being caught in a tight spot. He deserved little credit for having admitted his breach of the order in that, on the evidence, the breach was undeniable. His partial and belated disclosure of documents also afforded little mitigation.
In seeking to explain the breach, he asserted that he was not particularly bright. The judge, however, observed that he was bright enough to have run a large number of high-value property projects, both in England and abroad, and to have received and disposed of large sums of money. His disclosure of his means had been lamentable and the judge approached his claims of impecuniosity with scepticism.
Imposing a 32-week prison sentence, the judge could find no sufficient reason to suspend the term. As a coercive step, however, he ruled that the sentence should not come into effect for about two months in order to provide an opportunity for the businessman to fully comply with the order. He was warned that only by taking that course might he avoid hearing the clang of prison gates.