FRIDAY LAW REPORT: Committal Proceedings for Contempt Unfair ; 13 MAY 2005 Phillips and Others V Symes and Others ([2005] EWCA Civ 553) Court of Appeal, Civil Division (Lord Justice Pill and Lord Justice Longmore) 6 May 2005

Article excerpt

Committal proceedings against the defendant for contempt of court had been conducted unfairly, and the term of imprisonment imposed by the judge was reduced to one year from two.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of Robin Symes against the length of a term of imprisonment imposed for contempt of court.

Mr Symes had been in partnership with the third claimant's brother, dealing in objets d'art and antiquities, until the partner's death and the consequent dissolution of the partnership. The other claimants were the administrators of the deceased partner's estate.

The claimants commenced proceedings against Mr Symes arising out of a dispute concerning assets alleged to be partnership assets. He was in breach of various court orders and undertakings made in the course of the proceedings, and a suspended sentence of one year's imprisonment for contempt of court was imposed on him in May 2003.

In March 2004, the claimants applied without notice for a disclosure order against Richard Slade, the defendant's former solicitor, in connection with, inter alia, the sale of a statue (the Slade proceedings).

The claimants thereafter applied for an order that Mr Symes be committed for contempt of court in that he had he had breached an undertaking to disclose certain information, and because there was evidence that he had sold the statute in breach of an order of the court. The judge adjourned the contempt hearing and set aside a day in January 2005 to enable Mr Symes to attend upon the claimants' legal representatives with a view to providing such further information as he was willing and able to provide on a number of issues.

He told Mr Symes that, if he co-operated, that would be taken into account in any sentence he decided to impose for the breaches. At the resumed hearing on 20 January, the judge declined to look at the transcripts of the interviews conducted with Mr Symes, but accepted the claimants' contention that he had not given any further information that would be of assistance. …