Re SC (Children) sub nom SC v HC
Reference:  EWCA Civ 21
Court: Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judge: Thorpe, Wall LJJ
Date of judgment: 28 Jan 2010
Summary: Contempt - Orders - Penal notices - Disclosure - Foreign lawyers
Instructing Solicitors: Henry Browne for the Appellant; the Resondent did not appear and was not represented
The Appellant appealed against the finding of a County Court judge that she was in breach of an order made in the following terms: “both parties shall be expressly prohibited from disclosing any documents filed in these proceedings … to any any person save for a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England or Counsel with rights of audience … “. One such document was an expert’s report which described the Respondent as being “by nature narcissistic”. The committal order records that the Appellant had breached the order by disclosing the contents of a report to her Turkish lawyer. The order did not include a penal notice.
Whether the appeal against the committal order should be allowed
Allowing the appeal:
The formalities of committal proceedings are to be strictly observed, although a breach of such formalities may be overlooked if it does not affect the justice of the case. If an order was to have penal consequences it needed to be clear on its face as to precisely what it meant and precisely what it forbade the respondent from doing.
On the evidence the Appellant had not breached the order: she had not disclosed the report to anyone. It was not open to the judge to commit the Appellant for discussing the contents of the report with her Turkish lawyer. A party must be entitled to discuss any issue with their lawyers.
This decision illustrates both the punctillious nature that the courts will pay to the detail of orders before they will commit a party for contempt, and the fact that discussion of matters with lawyers (UK-based or otherwise) is unlikely to ever amount to contempt.