Judges mean business and those who defy their orders face severe punishment, up to and including loss of liberty. The Court of Appeal resoundingly made that point in confirming a prison sentence imposed on a businessman whose acts of contempt were perhaps the most serious ever to come before an English court.
A commercial dispute reached its culmination in 2014 when the businessman was ordered to pay a shipping company over $37 million. The judgment debt remained largely unsatisfied and, with interest, it had since ballooned to over $70 million. The company’s attempts at enforcing payment had been repeatedly frustrated by the businessman’s flagrant breaches of numerous court orders.
Over a period of nine years, he had presented false affidavits and consistently failed to fully disclose his assets. He failed to provide access to email and social media accounts, did not comply with a search order and took steps to dissipate assets. Despite being jailed for contempt of court on no fewer than three occasions, his determined disobedience had continued unabated.
His latest sentence of two years’ imprisonment – the maximum term available – was imposed after he admitted 20 acts of contempt. He challenged that punishment on the basis that it was manifestly excessive and plainly wrong in principle, in that his mitigation had not been taken into account.
Rejecting his appeal, however, the Court found that there was no material mitigation available to him. His admissions were made at a late stage and the judge who jailed him was entitled to take the view that his apologies amounted to meaningless lip service. The sentence accurately reflected the gravity of his conduct.