Wrongly jailed father compensated

Posted: 25th April 2017

SAFamily judges work under relentless pressure and the legal system is not afraid to recognise that they sometimes make mistakes. A father who was wrongly jailed by a judge in the midst of a bitter child custody dispute won the right to compensation.

The father had been accused of deliberately failing to obey a succession of orders that required him to arrange the return of his young son from Singapore to the UK, where the boy’s mother lived. The boy was living with his paternal grandparents in Singapore and the father explained that, despite his best efforts to persuade them, the couple had refused to cooperate in his return to Britain.

Following a hearing, the judge found the father in contempt of court and committed him to prison for 18 months. He served nine weeks of that sentence before the committal order was overturned and he was freed by the Court of Appeal. The father subsequently sued the Lord Chancellor, as head of the judiciary, on the basis that his detention had been unlawful. His claim was, however, dismissed.

In upholding his challenge to the latter decision, the Court of Appeal found that a number of errors made by the judge amounted to a gross and obvious irregularity in the proceedings. She had, amongst other things, given the father no fair opportunity to put his side of the story and had proceeded to sentencing without hearing his mitigation. Given her previous involvement in the case, she should have disqualified herself from hearing the committal application. The Court noted that the workload of family judges is unremitting and that the facts of the case were truly exceptional. The amount of the father’s compensation had yet to be assessed.