When a court makes an order, it must be obeyed or the whole justice system collapses. In this recent court case, a brother and sister, both pensioners with a combined age of 150, were sent to prison for contempt of court relating to a big money divorce.
The brother, aged in his 80s, had been ordered to transfer assets worth just over £3.5 million to his ex-wife, out of a marital pot worth about £9.4 million. He was, amongst other things, directed to assign to her his shares in a property company, which were valued at approximately £1.6 million. Before she obtained possession of the company’s offices, however, they had been stripped almost bare of documents that she needed in order to run the business effectively.
Various orders were made against him, requiring him to hand over documents to his ex-wife and otherwise cooperate in her management of the company. After he failed to fully comply, however, he was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment. The ex-wife’s lawyers subsequently launched proceedings against his sister, aged in her 60s, on the basis that she had participated in defying the orders.
In sentencing her to three months’ imprisonment, the Court found that she had acted out of misplaced loyalty to her brother. She had intentionally and steadfastly refused to obey the orders despite having been given every opportunity to comply. Her contempt was deliberate, damaging, sustained and motivated.
The Court noted that it had no desire to jail a respectable and respected elderly woman who was much loved by her family. Imprisonment would represent a disgrace in her community. However, a firm message needed to be sent and her contempt was too grave to justify suspending the sentence. Execution of the sentence was stayed for 21 days whilst her lawyers considered an appeal.