Lightfoot v Lightfoot: CA 1989

In matrimonial proceedings, Mr L had defied a court order to pay redundancy and other money due to him into a solicitors’ joint account upon receipt, pending further order. Mr L received andpound;30,000, paid all the money into his own account, withdrew andpound;24,000, and claimed to have gambled that sum away. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for the contempt.
Held: The court considered his application for early release. Lord Donaldson MR recalled the Mahone case and suggested ‘Sentences for contempt fall into two different categories. There is the purely punitive sentence where the contemnor is being punished for a breach of an order which has occurred but which was a once and for all breach. A common example, of course, is a non-molestation order where the respondent does molest the petitioner and that is an offence for which he has to be punished. In fixing the sentence there can well be an element of deterrence to deter him from doing it again and to deter others from doing it. That is one category.
There is a second category which I might describe as a coercive sentence where the contemnor has been ordered to do something and is refusing to do it. Of course, a sentence in that case has a punitive element since he has to be punished for having failed to do so up to the moment of the court hearing, but, nevertheless, it also has a coercive element.
Now, it is at that point that it is necessary to realize that in earlier times the courts would in such circumstances have imposed an indefinite sentence. That is to say a man would be committed to prison until such time as he purged his contempt by complying with the order. Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 a limit has been placed on such sentences, that limit being 2 years. It would be consistent with the previous practice of the courts and give full effect to the modification required by statute if courts considered imposing a 2-year sentence when the contemnor was in continuing and wilful breach of court orders. Whilst there might be cases in which such a sentence would be disproportionately severe, any wilful defiance of the court and its orders is necessarily a very serious offence and if the contemnor is aggrieved he has a remedy in his own hands – he can seek his immediate release by ceasing his defiance, complying with the order and thereby purging his contempt.’

Lord Donaldson MR, Butler-Sloss LJ
[1989] 1 FLR 414
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedCJ v Flintshire Borough Council CA 15-Apr-2010
The applicant appealed against a refusal to allow his early release from prison having been sentenced to 21 months for contempts of court.
Held: The appeal failed. The court set out eight questions which might be asked before allowing such a . .
CitedBalli, Re Contempt of Court Act 1981 (No. 2) ChD 15-Jul-2011
The defendant litigant had been found guilty of contempt in the face of court and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. The contemnor now sought to purge his contempt.
Held: The sentence had been imposed as punishment and not to seek to . .
CitedJSC BTA Bank v Solodchenko and others ChD 2-Nov-2010
The court consider its sentence on one of the defendants found to be in contempt of court.
Held: Mr Kythreotis was sentenced on the basis that the contempt had been purged, without making any finding as to whether there had been full and . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.408588