(Court of Appeal, Thorpe, Patten LJJ, David Richards J, 29 November 2012)
A lump sum order for £10,000 was made against the husband in financial remedy proceedings. Evidence before the judge showed that the husband had access to assets of £37,000. The husband made it clear that he did not intend to comply with the order and a penal notice was attached requiring payment within 2 months. The order was not in fact served on the husband until 4 months after the expiration of the notice. The wife issued committal proceedings.
The husband was present at the hearing but was not represented. He was sentenced to 9 months' imprisonment. The husband applied to purge his contempt but at the hearing he made no specific proposal to do so and the application was refused. The husband appealed.
The appeal was allowed. Section 5 of the Debtors Act 1869, which was almost identically replicated in r 33.14(c)(i) of the FPR 2010, placed a limit of a maximum prison term of 6 weeks. Section 11 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 permitted that jurisdiction to be exercisable only by a county court in respect of a county court maintenance order as was the case here. The judge had wrongly believed she had jurisdiction to pass down a sentence of 9 months by virtue of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 but given the deprivation of the husband's liberty that was a costly mistake.