Imprisoned divorcee suffered ‘grave injustice’

Posted: 5th December 2012

A divorcee who had ‘never even had a library fine’ was the victim of a grave injustice when he was jailed for nine months under a Dickensian debtors' law for failing to pay £10,000 to his ex-wife, the Court of Appeal has ruled. The man served four-and-a-half months in prison under the 1869 Debtors Act after a legal process which was ‘peppered with errors from the beginning to the end’.

The man had argued at Sheffield County Court that he did not have the means to pay the judgment debt to his ex-wife and that his only asset was his car. However, he was jailed after the judge ruled that he had made ‘no attempt to pay’.Sheffield

His lawyers argued on appeal that the sentence imposed was in excess of the court’s powers under the act which provided for the imposition of maximum six-week sentences to enforce civil debts in exceptional circumstances. The man had no legal representation at the county court; there was no proper consideration of alternatives to a jail term and he had had no sufficient notice of the hearing, it was submitted.

Lord Justice Thorpe, sitting with Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Richards, allowed the man’s appeal, pointing to numerous errors in the handling of the case and ruling that he had been wrongfully deprived of his liberty. The man’s lawyers said later that their client will now consider pursuing a damages claim for alleged unlawful detention in violation of his human rights.