A father who objected to his son being taken into care has been given a six month suspended sentence for contempt of court.
He had been refused permission to appeal the decision. At the High Court, the Right Honourable Sir James Munby noted the subsequent events:
“Thereafter, [the father] appears to have mounted a campaign of complaint about what had happened in the proceedings.”
In February last year, he sent copies of a DVD to the local authority, the contents of which are not specified in the judgement. This resulted in an order made by Mrs Justice King which forbade him from making any further attempts to distribute the DVD or its contents in any way.
In February this year, however, a link to a YouTube video was posted onto the Facebook page of an MP. This video, which has since been removed, contained material very similar to that found on the DVD. It was examined by a senior social worker at Suffolk County Council, who made detailed notes before the video’s removal, contrasting its contents with those of the DVD and concluding that the material was essentially the same.
The authority subsequently applied for the father to be sent to prison for contempt of court, claiming that he had deliberately breached the legal order issued by Mrs Justice King, who has since become an Appeal Court Judge.
The father was charged with five specific instances of contempt. In addition to posting the YouTube link, he was alleged to have identified his son in subsequent Facebook comments; to have threatened the MP in question’s assistant; and to have verbally abused the social worker who examined the YouTube video and subsequently gave evidence against him. The latter counted as two instances of contempt of court as it was reportedly both a breach of Mrs Justice King’s order and contempt in itself.
After initial legal arguments, the father pleaded guilty to all five charges. Despite describing some of Mr Hancock’s behaviour as “outrageous”, Sir James nevertheless announced in his judgement that he would be taking a “merciful course”.
His Lordship accepted that the outbursts had been unplanned and spontaneous, and described the fact that his son had not been aware of the DVD or post as a “powerful mitigating feature”.
The man was sentenced to six months for each of the incidents of contempt on Facebook and to three months for the two outbursts. However, all four sentences were to run concurrently, making the total sentence six months, and this was to be suspended for a total of 15 months.
Sir James said a prison sentence was unlikely to change the father’s behaviour but a suspended sentence “…maximises the incentive on [the father] to behave himself in the future.”
The Judge told him:
“It is very important… that you appreciate the consequence of my having suspended those sentences. They will be suspended on terms, on condition that there is no further breach. The consequence is twofold. If there is a further breach, if there is further misbehaviour, whether breach of the order or further contempts of court of the kind which we saw on the last occasion here [when he used abusive language towards the social worker], then there will be two consequences. If a further breach or breaches are proved, you will be punished for those breaches. You will in addition find the suspended sentence being activated.”
Read the case in full here.