Committal for Contempt of Court: Hayes -v- Butters

County CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Claim no: 6CB00392

Date: 16/08/2022

HHJ Hellman

Timothy Francis Hayes
Graham Scott Butters

Statement of reasons for suspended order of committal
1. This statement is made pursuant to paragraph 13 of Practice Direction: Committal for Contempt of Court – Open Court.
2. In relation to Case No: 6CB00392 on 16 August 2022 at the County Court at Central London, HHJ Hellman sentenced Graham Butters (“Mr Butters”) to 28 days imprisonment for contempt of court. The sentence was suspended for 12 months (ie until 4 pm on 15 August 2023). The basis of the sentence was as follows.
3. On 19 August 2020, HHJ Hellman made an injunction order. The relevant provisions were that Mr Butters was forbidden (whether by himself or by instructing or encouraging any other person) from:
A. Engaging in contacting or communicating in any way whatsoever either directly or indirectly with Timothy Hayes (“Mr Hayes”)
B. Provided that this would not prevent:
a. communication with Mr Hayes as other party to legal proceedings provided such communication was limited in occasion and content to what was necessary for the conduct of such litigation. For the avoidance of doubt:
i. necessary communications were limited to service of applications, responses to applications, court documents, documents being disclosed and witness statements, skeleton arguments, communications concerning the contents of court bundles, covering letters identifying contents only, and making, accepting or refusing offers;
ii. comment upon the contents of the communication or about any person was not necessary;
iii. justification was not necessary;
iv. statements of background facts (whether agreed or not) were not necessary; and
v. no communication with Mr Hayes was necessary when he had instructed solicitors to deal with a specific matter.
4. The injunction tracked the wording of undertakings given previously by both Mr Butters and Mr Hayes. Its purpose, and that of the undertakings, was to prevent the parties from harassing each other within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 through excessive and unnecessary communications, including correspondence generated in the course of litigation. This was in the context of various hard fought and bitter legal actions between them dating back many years.
5. Following some initial procedural hiccoughs, on 8 March 2022 Mr Hayes filed a committal application alleging that over the period September 2020 to September 2021, Mr Hayes had breached the injunction on 70 occasions by sending him letters and emails which did not comply with its terms.
6. On 16 August 2022, the committal application came on for hearing before HHJ Hellman. It proceeded on 20 specimen counts. Following a contested hearing the judge found that 12 of the 20 counts were proved.
7. When sentencing, the Court took into account the sentencing principles for contempt of court stated by Hale LJ (as she then was) in Hale v Tanner [2000] 1 WLR 2377. These included: (i) that the length of the committal should be decided without reference to whether it should be suspended; (ii) the purpose of sentencing in committal proceedings includes both marking the court’s disapproval of the disobedience of its order and securing future compliance with the order; (iii) the length of the committal must bear some reasonable relationship with the maximum two years which is available; (iv) suspension is possible in a much wider range of circumstances than in criminal cases and is usually the first way of attempting to secure compliance with the court’s order; and (v) the length of suspension requires separate consideration, although it is often appropriate to link it to continued compliance with that order.
8. The Court also took into account the judgment of Macdonald J in P (by her Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor) -v- Griffith [2020] EWCOP 46. The judge stated that in sentencing the contemnor the disposal must be proportionate to the seriousness of the contempt, reflect the court’s disapproval and be designed to secure compliance in the future. Committal to prison was appropriate only where no reasonable alternative existed. Where the sentence was suspended or adjourned the period of suspension or adjournment and the precise terms for activation must be specified.
9. The allegations proved were part of a pattern of persistent low-level breaches of the injunction order which had caused considerable distress to Mr Hayes and his family and which Mr Hayes complained were continuing to this day.
10. Upon the Court finding that 12 of the 20 counts were proved, Mr Butters offered an apology to the Court which the judge accepted was genuine and unprompted by his solicitors. The Court took into account that the communications occurred in the context of protracted litigation in which neither side was wholly in the right and that Mr Butters had sincerely, though mistakenly, believed that the offending
communications were justified. A number of them were the sort of communications often sent by solicitors and, considered in isolation and had there been no injunction, would have been unobjectionable. Mr Butters was in his 70s and in poor health.
11. The Court found that the contempt was sufficiently serious to require a custodial sentence. 28 days imprisonment was the appropriate figure, to run concurrent on all four counts. However, the sentence could properly be suspended. This was on terms that Mr Butters comply with the injunction order. The Court hoped that the suspended sentence would make Mr Butters think twice before sending another unnecessary email to Mr Hayes. The suspension would run for 12 months, ie until 4 pm on 15 August 2023.