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President calls for more extensive powers for punishing contempt of court

Date:23 JAN 2014

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, has voiced his opinion that the civil courts need 'more extensive powers' to deal adequately with contempt of court.

Sir James was referring to a child contact case at Chelmsford County Court. After closing submissions, the father, Simon Ramet, attacked his former wife by repeatedly punching her, pulling her hair and kicking her after she had fallen to the floor. When the court clerk went to her assistance he assaulted him too. Mr Ramet was then restrained and arrested.

Section 14 (b) of the County Courts Act 1984 provides that: 'If any person assaults an officer of a court while in the execution of his duty, he shall be liable on an order made by the judge in that behalf, to be committed for a specified period not exceeding 3 months to prison or to such a fine as aforesaid...' However, within the judgment of Re Ramet Application for the Committal to Prison [2014] EWHC 56 (Fam), [2014] 1 FLR (forthcoming), Sir Munby expressed his views that, to his mind, this punishment was not sufficient.

'It is in this context that I have to express serious concerns about the adequacy - in fact, in my opinion, the utter inadequacy in modern conditions - of the statutory penalties available under the 1984 Act. So far as concerns the family justice system I accordingly invite the Family Procedure Rules Committee to consider whether there is some way in which, compatibly with the provisions of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, District Judges, Circuit Judges and Recorders can be given powers more extensive than those currently available to them in these cases,' Sir Munby said in his judgment.