Case Number: H00WD897
In the County Court
Sitting at Watford
20 February 2023
His Honour Judge Middleton-Roy
- The First Defendant Rubeena Koheeallee entered a tenancy agreement with the Claimant in respect of a property at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
- The Second Defendant is Terry Abbott. He is not a tenant of property.
- An injunction Order was made on 5 May 2022 against both Defendants under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. That followed a substantial history of complaints of antisocial behaviour involving both Defendants dating from 2018, in breach of a term of the tenancy agreement not to cause or allow members of the household or visitors to cause nuisance or annoyance to neighbours or other tenants and not to use premises for illegal use. A Community Protection Warning was issued by the police in June 2020. There were ongoing reports of antisocial behaviour throughout 2021.
- At the hearing of the injunction application on 5 May 2022, neither Defendant attended. The Court proceeded to make an injunction Order against both Defendants, which included, amongst other orders, prohibition on the use or threat of violence towards any person who resides in, is working in or is visiting the vicinity of the property in Borehamwood. Further, the Order prohibited the Defendants from contacting named persons, directly or indirectly. In respect of the Second Defendant Terry Abbott, the Order prohibited him from entering or attempting to enter any part an area outlined on a map appended to the Order, being the entire area of the street where the First Defendant’s property is located.
- Service of the Injunction Order was effected on both Defendants on 17 May 2022.
- On 11 January 2023, the Second Defendant, Terry Abbott, was arrested following alleged breaches of the injunction. He was brought before the Court and was informed properly by the District Judge of his rights, including his right to silence, his right against self-incrimination and his right to free legal representation. The matter was adjourned to 6 February 2023 to afford the Second Defendant an opportunity to secure free legal representation.
- On 6 February 2023, the Second Defendant appeared before this Court, without legal representation. He informed the Court that he did not seek to be legally represented. He declined the opportunity of a further adjournment to seek free legal representation. The Court proceeded to hear evidence from a Police Officer, from an employee of the Claimant and from a neighbour of the First Defendant. Further, the Court heard evidence from the Second Defendant. The Court found to the criminal standard of proof that the Second Defendant breached the terms of the injunction Order by entering the prohibited area on three occasions on 5, 6 and 11 January 2023. The Second Defendant accepted in his evidence that he was present at the First Defendant’s property on each of those dates. Further, the Second Defendant informed the Court that he is present at the First Defendant’s property, “all the time.”
- The Court having found the Second Defendant to have breached the terms of the injunction Order on the three occasions identified by the Claimant, found the Second Defendant to be in contempt of Court. Sentencing was adjourned to afford the Second Defendant a further opportunity to obtain free legal representation, at his request. The Court provided the Second Defendant with details of specialist local solicitors to assist him in obtaining legal representation.
- The sentencing hearing proceeded on 20 February 2023. The Second Defendant was not in attendance nor was he legally represented. No solicitors are on the record as acting for him. No application to adjourn was received. The Second Defendant filed no documents, evidence or application with the Court. Civil Procedure Rule 81.4(2)(i) and (j) reflect the importance of legal representation for Respondents to committal proceedings. They are entitled to legal representation via non-means tested legal aid, if they want it. The Second Defendant has repeatedly declined that opportunity. The Court determined that it must proceed to sentence the Second Defendant in his absence.
- The Court is concerned with three breaches of the Order made pursuant to the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. The objectives of sentencing for breach of an Order under Part I of the 2014 Act are those applicable to civil contempt, namely ensuring future compliance with the Order, punishment and rehabilitation. As the Court is concerned with civil contempt, the five options available to the Court when dealing with a contemnor are an immediate order for committal to prison, a suspended order for committal to prison, with conditions, adjourning the consideration of a penalty, a fine or no order. The maximum term that can be imposed is 2 years’ imprisonment (s14 Contempt of Court act 1981). One half of any custodial terms will be served in prison before automatic release (Criminal Justice Act 2003, s258).
- The Court reminds itself of the general principles that custody should be reserved for the most serious breaches, and for less serious cases where other methods of securing compliance with the order have failed. The Court should consider a penalty for each breach found proved. Terms of imprisonment may be concurrent or consecutive to each other. Consideration must also be given to the totality of the penalties imposed. A custodial sentence should never be imposed if an alternative course is sufficient and appropriate. If the court decides to impose a term of imprisonment, that term should always be the shortest term which will achieve the purpose for which it is being imposed. If custody is appropriate, the length of the sentence should be decided without reference to whether or not it is to be suspended. In some cases, the Court may conclude that a fine will be sufficient. In the most minor cases the Court may decide that the impact of the proceedings is likely to achieve the purposes of the contempt jurisdiction, and that it may be appropriate to make no Order, save for the finding of breach. All of these means of disposal will mean that any future breach of the order will be treated as substantially more serious.
- The Court has given distinct consideration to the degree of harm and the degree of culpability, bearing in mind the civil context. The Civil Justice Council proposes a scheme based on three levels each of culpability and harm, closely modelled on the Sentencing Council’s scheme for breaches of Criminal Behaviour Orders, with suitable adjustments. This is a valuable tool for the Court, bearing in mind that sentencing is highly fact specific.
- In this Court’s judgment, each of the breaches of the Order by the Second Defendant was deliberate. The breaches have been persistent and premeditated. There is no evidence of actual violence. Nevertheless, the breaches have caused significant distress to neighbors.
- The appropriate starting point for the sentence and the range within which the sentence can be adjusted is, adjourned consideration to six months imprisonment.
- There are additional elements to take into consideration which increase the seriousness of the breaches. Evidence from witnesses demonstrates that high levels of anxiety and stress have resulted from the Second Defendant’s behaviour. There is evidence of the Second Defendant spitting and vomiting in communal parts of the property and of the Second Defendant being under the influence of alcohol repeatedly. One neighbour reported being, “pushed to the end of my tether” and feeling that, “my right of life has been stripped from me.” The Court has considered whether there should be any reduction to sentence by reference to any mitigating factors. Whilst the Second Defendant accepted frankly to the Court on 6 February 2023 that he had breached the terms of the injunction on the three specified occasions, he did so only after requiring each of the Claimant’s witnesses to give evidence. He has demonstrated no remorse nor offered any apology. He does not advance ill health as being a reason affecting his responsibility as a contemnor. Whilst the Second Defendant suggested that the First Defendant is ill, he has provided no evidence, despite being given the opportunity to do so.
- In the judgment of this Court, adjournment of sentence as a deterrent and to secure a means of compliance would serve no purpose. Similarly, a fine would not be appropriate on the facts.
- In the judgment of this Court a sentence of imprisonment of 28 days for each breach is the appropriate sentence, to run concurrently.
- The sentence of imprisonment will be suspended for a period of 6 months, on condition that the terms of the injunction Order of 5 May 2022 are complied with.
- The Second Defendant is ordered to pay the Claimant’s costs, assessed in the sum of £2,460, by 6 March 2023.