Court orders are not just pieces of paper and those who disobey them are at risk of severe consequences, both financial and reputational. In the context of a maritime insurance dispute, the High Court did not mince words in its condemnation of a businessman who persistently showed his disdain for judicial authority.
The case concerned an insurer who paid out about $6.5 million after a merchant ship was seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Following the vessel’s release, the insurer reached a settlement with her owners and managers under which it was entitled to recover much of that outlay through the sale of the ship’s cargo.
The settlement was not honoured, however, and the insurer launched proceedings against the businessman, who was associated with the owners and managers and who was said to have induced the breach. The insurer obtained judgments against him with a value conservatively estimated at $6 million. The difficulties it had encountered in enforcing those judgments were, however, so grave that it feared throwing good money after bad.
In coming to the insurer’s aid, the Court granted a worldwide freezing injunction in respect of the businessman’s assets. In a public ruling, it found that he had played fast and loose with the Court throughout the dispute. He had sought to manipulate the legal process wherever possible and had contemptuously flouted court orders. His conduct displayed a pattern of deliberate evasiveness.
Given the powerful public interest in the maintenance of judicial authority and the effective enforcement of court orders, a robust response was required. He had been coy, to say the least, about disclosing his address and the extent and whereabouts of his assets were unknown. The Court was, however, satisfied that he had assets against which the judgments could be enforced and that, unless restrained from doing so, there was a real risk that he would set about dispersing them.