Committal for Contempt of Court: Derwent -v- Norris

CivilCounty CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Case Reference: H00DE751

In The County Court at Derby

15 February 2023

District Judge Davies

Derwent Housing Association Limited T/A Derwent Living
Calvin Craig Norris

Committal for Contempt of Court

  1. I am dealing today with an application by Derwent Housing Association for the committal of Calvin Craig Norris. Mr. Tyson appeared on behalf of the claimant and Mr. Willock for the defendant, both of counsel.
  2. The application is brought by way of N600 application dated 28 March 2022 subsequently amended on 20 April 2022 and re-amended on 27 November 2022. The amendments were to allow the Claimant to bring in fresh allegations of breach post-dating the original N600.
  3. The application relates to allegations of breaches an injunction made against the Defendant by DDJ Smith dated 4 January 2022.
  4. The relevant terms of the injunction are as follows. The Defendant was forbidden from preventing access to his rented home 19 North Street, Langley Mill, Derbyshire to the claimant’s servants or agents attending to undertake necessary inspections, repairs or work upon 24 hours’ notice to the defendant. He was further forbidden from telephoning the Claimant’s officers or its agents, contractors or anyone else working on the claimant’s behalf on any of the claimant’s main office numbers, extension numbers and/or mobile phones. Finally, he was forbidden from being present at his home when the claimant’s officers or any of the claimant’s officers, agents contractors or anyone else working for the claimant are at the premises on pre-arranged visits- and to ensure that a third party is present to ensure access to the claimant’s officers and the like.
  5. By the various N600 forms, the claimant sets out the following allegations of breaches of the injunction. I list these:
    a. Breach 1. On 15 February 2022 the defendant was present at 19 North Street when the claimant’s officers attended for a pre-arranged appointment to inspect;
    b. Breach 2- On the same day, the defendant failed to allow access to the premises to the claimant’s officers for the purpose of the inspection;
    c. Breach 3. On 1 March 2022 the defendant made two telephone calls to the claimant’s main office;
    d. Breach 4- On 21 March 2022 the defendant made a telephone call to the claimant’s main office;
    e. Breach 5- On 28 March 2022 the defendant made a telephone call to the claimant’s office and during the course of that call made abusively racist comments concerning one Tahir Fazal, a surveying technician in the employ of the claimant, and further that he used offensive language and an aggressive tone towards the call taker;
    f. Breach 6- On 5 August 2022 the defendant was present at 19 North Street when the claimant’s officers attended for a pre-arranged appointment to carry out a conditions survey of the premises; and
    g. Breach 7- On 26 September 2022 the defendant was present at 19 North Street when the claimant’s officers attended for a pre-arranged appointment to inspect to carry out works of repair, whereupon he shouted aggressively at the contractors ,and having opened the door to them but refusing to let them in, slammed the door in their faces.
  6. The evidence of the breaches relied on by the claimant is set out in the affidavits of Tahir Fazal dated 3 March 2022, Roxanne Ridgard dated 24 March 2022, and 31 March 2022, Lisa Philpott dated 25 August 2022, Jay Rhodes dated 17 October 2022.
  7. The defendant, notwithstanding his right of silence, has opted via his solicitors to file a witness statement in response to the allegations of breach numbered 1-4. Today, through counsel Mr. Willock he has admitted each of the seven breaches.
  8. As to breach 1, he states that he knew that the claimant’s agents were to attend and arranged for his mother to let them in. He states that he was waiting with his jacket on for the agents to arrive before leaving and had no intention of remaining at the property when they arrived. There is a photograph of him at the door wearing a coat showing he was intending to leave. In mitigation today Mr. Willock submitted that his underlying objection to Mr. Fazal attending was to do with his competence rather than being racial.
  9. As to breaches 2 and 3, the defendant states that he was under the impression that he could call the claimant in an emergency, and that he contacted them to report emergency repairs being needed to his property.
  10. Moving to breach 4, the defendant states that the same applied, in that this was an emergency in that he needed to report damage to his front door. He says that he also wrongly assumed that the injunction had been lifted by the fact his criminal proceedings had ended. This he acknowledges was an error. He says that during the call he was distressed, having suicidal thoughts and the condition of the property was exacerbating his mental health. The conversation, as was the case with breach 3 was entirely civil.
  11. As to breach 5, Mr. Willock submitted that the Defendant thought he was allowed to call the claimant following the lifting of bail conditions in criminal proceedings, a misapprehension apparently shared by his mother. He was frustrated by an ongoing problem with rats. There have been no further telephone calls since 28 March 2022. Mr. Willock had to accept on behalf of the defendant that breach five included racist remarks and undertones but submitted that there were no overtly offensive racist slurs used.
  12. In terms of breach 6, this was not it was submitted a serious breach and was rooted in the defendant’s frustration as was breach 7 albeit that it was accepted that the shouting was more serious.
  13. The burden of proof lies on the claimant to satisfy the court to the criminal standard of proof, namely beyond reasonable doubt, that the defendant has breached the injunctions. The defendant’s admission means that the burden is satisfied.
  14. Sentence. Mr. Willock referred me to the extremely helpful Court of Appeal guidance in the matter of Lovett v Wigan Borough Council, Smith and Network Homes and Hopkins v Optivo [[2022[ EWCA Civ 1631. Both Mr. Tyson and Mr. Willock submitted that the relevant bracket was category 2B, where the starting point is one month’s custody and the range being adjourned consideration through to three months.
  15. I have considered the aggravating factors. The breaches began shortly after the injunction was put in place, albeit the early breaches which occurred within 6 to 11 weeks of the injunction were not the most serious of the breaches. Breach 5 in particular involved the use of demonstrably racist language and an unacceptable level of verbal aggression to the call handler from the recording I have heard. Breach 7 involved unacceptable shouting and the slamming of the door.
  16. I have on the other hand considered the following mitigating factors. Firstly, that the defendant has admitted each of the breaches. On that basis I can add that he has spared the four witnesses here today having to give evidence and being cross-examined. Secondly, there has been a considerable time which has elapsed since the last breach in September 2022 without any further breaches. Thirdly, and most magnetically, there is a very full medical report which details the defendant’s mental health struggles. Whereas Dr. Attard does not go so far as to make a diagnosis of ADHD, he believes it is probable that the Defendant has ADHD. Dr. Attard feels that he is on firmer ground in respect of the Defendant having a dissocial personality disorder. The Defendant suffers from clear impairments in interpersonal functioning including in empathy, showing a lack of concern for feelings needs or suffering in others. There is evidence of lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating others and an inability in response to perceived slights and a low tolerability of his own frustration. He has a tendency to outburst of anger and a long history of self-harming and parasuicidal behaviour.
  17. By way of further mitigation, the Defendant has already taken Dr. Attard’s report to his GP and a referral to hospital has been made. He has taken overtly positive steps to address the underlying issues affecting him and his relations with others. Mr. Willock submitted that whilst the defendant has behaved badly, he is not entirely responsible for all of his actions.
  18. Having considered the aggravating and mitigating factors and the Court of Appeal guidance, I propose to accede to Mr. Willock’s invitation to adjourn consideration of sentence for three months. Had I not decided to take this step I would indicate that the likelihood is that I would have considered that whereas the custody threshold had been reached, and that an appropriate sentence would have been 28 days notwithstanding the range of the 14-21 days suggested by Mr. Willock, it would have been equally appropriate to have suspended that custodial sentence for a period to expire at the expiry date of the injunction in January 2024.
  19. Following the guidance in paragraph 45 of Lovett, I propose to include a recital in the order today that if when the matter comes back before the court, there is no evidence of further breaches of the injunction order then it is likely that the ultimate sentence will be lesser than 28 days, and that the lower end of the range suggested by Mr. Willock may well become appropriate, suspended of course. This will also entail that if there are any future breaches of the injunction, those will be treated as more serious in the light of what has gone before.
  20. That is my judgment. Subject to any applications as to costs or ancillary matters. I invite counsel to let me have an order to give effect. I would estimate that the next hearing should be listed for one hour.
    District Judge Davies
    15 February 2023