Contempt for court orders


The public disclosure two weeks ago arising from Independent Senator Dr Paul Richards’ motion on the questionable enforcement of court protection orders is of public concern, especially for women.

In fact, this raises the very big and general question of contempt for court orders.

As Justice Frank Seepersad noted last year, “Too many court orders are not obeyed.” Why is this allowed? This disobedience is especially so for civil court orders.

Why? And this after a busy judge reads thick files, hears lengthy evidence and speeches for several days and then gives an order that is blatantly disobeyed? Wasting a judge’s time?

To what extent should a lawyer share liabllity in court for his or her client’s consistently disobeying a court order? Is it far-fetched for citizens to create a “Citizens’ Alliance for Justice” to supplement the advocacy of the Law Association?

On receiving his service award last December from the Law Association, our distinguished Russell Martineau, SC, advised the Law Association: “It’s not just the Attorney General and Chief Justice’s business, it’s also our business and we have to do something about the justice system.”

Notably, soon after a few vigilant lawyers and the Lynette Seebaran-Suite-led Law Association pressed for probate administration to be more expeditious, the results came quickly.

Well, let’s see with court orders. This court-order breach of public justice needs the urgent attention of Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC and the Law Association.

Briefly, the AG is directly responsible for the “administration of legal affairs,” including civil cases (DPP for criminal matters).

Disobeying or ignoring a court order is like mocking the authority of the courts upon which aggrieved citizens depend for fairness and justice, especially when "advantaged" by powerful agencies of government. I know a particular civil case against a government corporation which consecutively disobeyed three court orders.

It is vile public mischief and utterly unlawful for such a court order to be disobeyed, and worse yet, leaving aggrieved claimants without remedy and justice for long periods. Delays in enforcing the court order, after considering mitigating circumstances, usually cost the claimant more money, suffering tension, further damages and loss of confidence in the administration of justice. When a judge gives an order, that order must be obeyed, enforced and backed up by the court itself and the police.

The relevant joint select committee and Senator Richards, together with the Law Association, should now ask Attorney General Armour how many civil court orders were disobeyed at least between 2010 and 2024.

In his motion, Senator Richards noted gaps in enforcing protection orders reported between 2000 and 2013. There were approximately 19,078 domestic-violence reports, of which 75 per cent “were related to women.”

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, noting the figures, explained, “What may be required is a constantly improving and more robust application of these protections by the police in a zero-tolerance mode.”

Since the 2020 amendments, he added, there were “800 instances of breaches,” of which “450 of those have been arrested and charged.”

However, of the 19,078 reports between 2000 to 2013, how many have been “arrested and charged?”

Now when a judge gives an order, it is based on a law or regulation which was broken one way or another. So when a defendant is found guilty, and then disobeys the court order, he is twice guilty for the same matter. And the judge must act expeditiously on application.

It is therefore a matter that should not be taken lightly either by the guilty person or, more so, by the presiding judge. Any judge whose order is ignored or disobeyed and who does not take the stipulated action could also be unwittingly perpetrating an injustice against the aggrieved claimant.

In fact, for civil matters, the Civil Proceedings Rules (1998) give the following powers of a judge over a guilty defendant who disobeys his or her court order.

Briefly, (1) The court may make an order to seize the assets of the defendant (debtor) who is an individual or corporation.

(2) Court may make a committal order (sentence, eg 21 days) against an officer (eg CEO, chairman) of the defendant corporation

(3) Confiscate (seize) the assets of an officer (eg CEO, chairman) of the defendant corporation. Further, costs may be paid to claimant.

Given the current concerns of judges and many aggrieved citizens, maybe an increase in these punishments should be considered in order to bring greater respect and effectiveness to our judicial system.


"Contempt for court orders"

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