P v Griffith – Family Law Week case summary

12 October 2020

The court considered the contempt alleged to be a criminal contempt being 'an act which so threatens the administration of justice that it requires punishment from the public point of view.', a criminal contempt being a contempt which is a crime of itself and where 'liability is not strict in the sense referred to, for there has to be shown not only knowledge of the order but an intention to interfere with or impede the administration of justice—an intention which can of course be inferred from the circumstances.'. Such an application required the court's permission to be made, which was granted. The court noted, as confirmed in Att-Gen v Times Newspapers Ltd [1992] 1 A.C. 191 it had also to be satisfied on the criminal standard of proof that the contemnor had mens reas in the form of an intention to interfere with or impede the administration of justice, an intention which may be inferred from the circumstances demonstrated by the admissible evidence.

The court first set out the procedural 'imperatives' that must be followed in the committal process, the court having to consider the contemnor's failure to attend either of the committal hearings or the discrete sentencing hearing [para 5]. The court considered Sanchez v Oboz [2015] EWHC 235 (Fam), a decision of Cobb J, which set out the relevant legal principles to be considered when a court is considering whether to proceed in the contemnor's absence or not, also noting that Articles 6(1) and 6(3) of the ECHR were engaged. The court considered inter alia that, in the light of a failure to substantiate that she was too ill to attend a prior adjourned committal hearing, that the contemnor wished to exercise her right to silence and instead rely on the challenges to the evidence made by her advocate, the court was content to proceed bearing in mind the likely, considerable prejudice to the PP of any further delay.

During protracted CoP proceedings, the court held that the PP had suffered significant brain damage, having a diagnosis of Minimally Conscious State Minus. There had been disputes amongst the contemnor and the other parties as to, inter alia, the PP's condition and prognosis, treatment and a DNR CPR notice. A number of disclosure orders related to the protected parties' medical notes were made with each being disclosure only to solicitors instructed by the Official Solicitor. The contemnor had made an application for disclosure of P's 'full medical file', but this was dismissed. A further application was made, and, again, dismissed. The applications were referred to on 3 instances in court orders as having been considered, the court concluding that it was not satisfied the disclosure orders were required.

Read the full summary on Family Law Week.