Reference:  EWHC 780 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division, Media and Communications List
Judge: Warby J
Date of judgment: 22 Mar 2018
Summary: Contempt of Court - Breach of Undertakings - Whether to accept admissions
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Adam Speker KC (Applicant)
Instructing Solicitors: Brett Wilson for Mr Galloway; The Respondent was in person
The Applicant, George Galloway, applied for the imposition by the court of sanctions for contempt of court. The Respondent, Aisha Ali-Khan, who used to work for Mr Galloway sued him for libel and one of the settlement terms was that they both undertook to the court not to discuss the litigation or disparage the other. She entered into a further set of undertakings on a later date which required here to adhere to the earlier undertakings and included further prohibitions on her, including not to refer to Mr Galloway on social media. Ms Ali-Khan breached the undertakings on 26 occasions and did not desist when asked to do so by Mr Galloway’s solicitors. He applied for sanctions for contempt of court.
At the hearing, Ms Ali-Khan stated that she admitted all the breaches and apologised to Mr Galloway. She requested an adjournment for sentencing which was unopposed.
Whether to accept the admissions of guilt
It was appropriate to do so and then to adjourn the matter to allow Ms Ali-Khan to seek to obtain legal aid for the sentencing hearing.
Although Ms Ali-Khan was acting in person she was a well-educated women with experience of the courts who had had plenty of notice of the allegations against her, and an ample opportunity to seek legal representation and arrange a defence: .
On 19 April 2018 the sentencing hearing took place. Ms Ali-Khan was represented by solicitors and Counsel. She was given a 12 week prison sentence commencing immediately and was ordered to pay costs on a standard basis. A transcript of the judgment will be made available.
This is one of several contempt cases that have come before the courts relating to breaches of orders or undertakings not to publish material online or on social media: see e.g. Cheshire West v Pickthall and Al Ko-Kober v Sambhi. These cases demonstrates that repeated breaches of orders or undertakings of this kind are likely to cross the custody threshold. The courts have a limited range of sentencing powers for contempt of court meaning that, in order to demonstrate that court orders and undertakings must be respected, unless there are substantial mitigating factors, imprisonment is likely to follow.