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Adjournments, Court Orders, and Contempt

Can you still be held in contempt of court if you aren’t even there?

This was a question which was recently considered in a family law case by the High Court sitting in Preston, Lancashire.


The father removed his four children from the country last year, possibly to Somalia. As a result, the local authority applied for wardship orders and their return to England.

He is currently serving a sentence of imprisonment for contempt of court and has refused to engage meaningfully with proceedings.

The question for the court was whether it ought to proceed with the final hearing of the committal application against the father, who was not there and was not represented.


The judge, Mr Justice MacDonald, noted the relevant legal principles on whether a court can proceed with a committal hearing without the respondent father being there. These included:

  • Whether he had been served with the papers and given sufficient notice of the hearing
  • Any reasons given for his not-appearing.
  • Had he waived his right to be there?
  • Would an adjournment get him there or at least allow him to be represented?
  • To what extent would he be disadvantaged?
  • What impact might any delay have on the other parties?
  • The overriding objective to deal with cases justly, expeditiously, and fairly.

Mr Justice MacDonald determined:

“The father has… had proper notice of these proceedings, and has had proper notice of this adjourned hearing. Within that context, I am satisfied that the father has had sufficient notice to enable him to prepare for this final hearing. Indeed, the court [previously] adjourned the hearing… precisely to ensure that the father had adequate time to instruct his lawyers and to prepare for this hearing.”

He continued:

“There is no credible reason being advanced for the father’s failure to appear today. The father is currently incarcerated, and therefore had transport to this court made available to him from prison this morning pursuant to the production order issued by this court. Absent any explanation, for example a medical condition, the father’s refusal to get on the prison transport to the hearing amounts in my judgment to a wilful refusal to attend the hearing.”

The father was found guilty of a further contempt of court and sentenced to twelve months in prison.


He didn’t have to be there to be found in contempt of court.  Had the father been represented by specialist family lawyers and actively participated in proceedings, his outcome might well have been different.

For more information on this article, or any other aspect of family law and divorce, contact your Napthens Solicitors in Preston, and across the North West, today.

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