Smith v Smith: CA 1991

A husband committed two breaches of a non-molestation order; breaking the terms of a suspended sentence of committal. The breaches were extremely serious: the first was setting fire to his wife’s house and the second was assaulting her so severely that she required treatment at hospital. At the time of the hearing of the application for committal, and indeed also for activation of the suspended sentence, criminal proceedings were pending in relation to the two breaches.
Held: The court reduced from 12 months to six months the judge’s sentence for the two breaches and left untouched his activation of the suspended sentence. Civil contempt procedures are to be followed strictly in order to avoid invalidating any committal.
Balcombe LJ said: ‘On the question of sentence it is important that when the court is dealing with a case of contempt of court – that is, disobeying the order of the court – and the acts which it is alleged constitute that contempt are not merely potentially criminal acts but are, as in this case, already the subject of pending criminal proceedings, the court should not punish for the crime rather than for the contempt.
I agree with my Lord that the length of the sentence that the judge imposed in this case does suggest . . that he had in mind the criminal aspect rather than the disobedience of the orders of the court, however serious that was, because it was the contempt that he was dealing with.’


Balcombe LJ


Gazette 04-Mar-1992, [1991] 2 FLR 55


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedSlade v Slade CA 17-Jul-2009
Contempt sentence to reflect existing punishment
The wife appealed against a sentence of imprisonment imposed for a second contempt of court. She said that the behaviour complained of had already been dealt with in criminal proceedings.
Held: The sentence was reduced. The second court should . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court

Updated: 15 May 2022; Ref: scu.89345