In the Media

Contempt jailings should never be secret, leading judges warn

PUBLISHED May 3, 2013

Friday 03 May 2013 by Catherine Baksi

No one found guilty of contempt should be jailed in secret, two of the country's most senior judges have declared in a strong stand for open justice.

The lord chief justice Lord Judge (pictured) and Sir James Munby, who is both head of the High Court's Family Division and the Court of Protection, issued practice guidance today stating that people should 'never' be sent to prison without the public being told.

The guidance applies to applications for committal for contempt of court in the Court of Protection and the Family Division as well as in other divisions of the High Court, although both have a discretionary power to hear committal applications in private in 'exceptional' cases.

The judges said: 'It is a fundamental principle of the administration of justice in England and Wales that applications for committal for contempt should be heard and decided in public, that is, in open court.'

Their guidance follows press reports that a woman was secretly jailed by the Court of Protection for contempt for disobeying court orders relating to the care of her father who was suffering from dementia.

Meanwhile, justice secretary Chris Grayling has written to Munby asking him to widen his review of the workings of the family courts to cover courts of protection, to make them more transparent.

A judicial spokesman said that Munby had received the letter from Grayling and is considering it before replying in writing. The practice guidance was prepared prior to the letter from Grayling, he said.

Read the full guidance.