Dawn McCambley successfully defeated an application to commit to prison the directors of the Respondent company, together with two partners from the firm of Shakespeare Martineau LLP (“SM”), the solicitors for the Respondent (the “Committal Application”).
The matter was heard before Mr Justice Zacaroli, pursuant to CPR Practice Direction 51Y, by way of a recorded telephone conference in private, in order to secure the administration of justice in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of serious, unfounded allegations of contempt had been raised by the Applicant, including the following: (i) an allegation that an attendance note, prepared by SM, was false and misleading; (ii) an allegation that the content of a respondent director’s witness statement was false and misleading; (iii) an allegation that a witness statement prepared by one of the partners of SM was false and misleading. The Applicant also sought to expand the scope of his original application by joining numerous unnamed (and unidentified) funders as potential contemnors.
The type of contempt alleged was either or both of: (i) making or causing to be made a false statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth (within CPR 81.17(1)(a)); and (ii) an interference with the due administration of justice (within CPR 81.12). There were numerous procedural defects in the Committal Application, including, the failure to apply for the permission of the court to bring the proceedings, failing to commence the proceedings by a separate claim form, and failing to identify in a claim form precisely the grounds of contempt alleged.
Mr Justice Zacaroli was prepared to treat the hearing as an application for permission. Following careful consideration of the factors set out in Tinkler v Elliott  EWCA Civ 564, Mr Justice Zacaroli refused permission to proceed and held that, “there is no strong prima facie case in respect of the grounds of contempt alleged…….in my judgment the allegation that these matters amount to a contempt of court so as to justify an application for committal to prison is totally without merit”.
The Honourable Judge stated further that:
- The Applicant fell “very far short of establishing a strong prima facie case against the alleged contemnors”.
- In relation to the actual preparation of the attendance note, the Judge considered “it is fanciful to suggest that there was anything in it that was false, let alone knowingly false”.
- “…a case based on pure speculation falls very short of the requirement to establish a strong prima facie claim”.
- As to the alleged false statement in the partner’s witness statement, the Applicant’s “contention is groundless”.
In the circumstances, the Committal Application was dismissed and the Applicant was ordered to pay the Respondent’s costs on an indemnity basis.
You can read the full judgment here.