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Millionaire receives jail sentence for contempt of court over divorce settlement

Date:16 MAR 2018
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Millionaire property developer John Ralph Hart has been given a 14-month jail sentence for contempt of court after failing to comply with court orders following his divorce.

In 2015 Karen Hart was awarded a £3.5m share of the couple’s £9.4m estate. Mr Hart was ordered to transfer shares in his property company to his ex-wife with the result that she would become the owner. His subsequent behaviour, which included delaying the transfer and stripping out the management records of the company, led His Honour Judge Wildblood QC to observe in his sentencing remarks that Mr Hart had ‘done his utmost to frustrate her ability to run [the company] efficiently and effectively’.

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The judge noted the ‘profound’ effect that Mr Hart’s actions had had on his ex-wife, causing ‘deliberate financial and emotional harm’.

Concluding his remarks, HHJ Wildblood QC also highlighted the unnecessarily protracted nature of the litigation surrounding the case, stating:

‘This case has placed an immense burden on limited public funds, a burden that will continue now as a result of your incarceration.’

Tony Roe, principal of Berkshire-based Tony Roe Solicitors, said:

‘HHJ Wildblood QC made it clear that Mr Hart was a man who had received repeated warnings that he must comply with court orders and chose, repeatedly, not to do so. The “extremely serious” contempt proven is astonishing in its extent and was found to have seriously prejudiced Mrs Hart, whom the judge describes as Mr Hart’s victim.

The judge points out that, even after eight days of this committal hearing, in addition to the catalogue of other proven contempt, Mr Hart had still chosen not to provide important documentation he was ordered to supply.

The detailed sentencing remarks, apparently released on the very day made, are particularly useful for family law practitioners to read. They demonstrate what a careful balancing exercise the judge has carried out, taking account mitigating factors for the 83-year-old Mr Hart, suffering from ill health, who has contributed to society.

They also demonstrate an approach to sentencing which involves both a punitive and a coercive term, a total 14 months running concurrently.’

Jo Carr-West, partner at Hunters Solicitors, said:

‘The publicity surrounding this judgment will give clients confidence that, once an order is made, the court will uphold it and punish those who deliberately avoid paying.

Clients always ask "but what if he doesn't pay?". Battles to enforce an order can be long, frustrating and extremely expensive with costs having to be met up front by the party trying to get the money owed to them.’