In the County Court at Bristol
23 August 2021
His Honour Judge Ralton
- In this case, the claimant is a housing association, now known as Brighter Places and the defendant, Mr Dito Myles is their tenant at 63A St Werburghs Park. He was granted that tenancy back on 15 December 2014. It would appear that complaints were made about Mr Myles’ behaviour to his landlord from about 1 October 2018.
- The behaviour complained of comprised visitors coming and going to the property at all hours of the day and night, doors slamming, arguing, shouting and racial abuse et cetera. The landlord sought to deal with these complaints but was unsuccessful in preventing Mr Myles from causing a disturbance and back in 2019, an application was made for an injunction order under the provisions of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Injunctions orders were duly granted and have been extended since the making of the original injunction order in 2019. There was a time when Mr Myles was in prison. Therefore, no incidents of antisocial behaviour arose during that time.
- On 26 June 2020, the injunction proceedings came before DDJ Chapel and he made a varied and extended injunction order, forbidding Mr Myles from making or causing a nuisance or annoyance to another residence of St Werburghs Park, St Werburghs, Bristol, committing or allowing a member of his household or invited visitors from committing any form of harassment or causing distress to any other resident of St Werburghs Park, allowing visitors to 63 St Werburghs Park, other than any visiting professionals such as health workers, emergency services, housing officers and trades people and leaving rubbish outside of the property or causing a nuisance to other residents of the local area by leaving disposed of items outside of the property or anywhere in the locality of the property.
- Notwithstanding that order, the landlord then called Solon South West Housing Association, made an application on 22 March 2021 for the committal of Mr Myles to prison for being in breach of the injunction order. That application came before myself. It is a common pattern throughout these proceedings that Mr Myles, whilst being cooperative, it would seem, in being served with process, does not attend the court and indeed, did not attend the committal proceedings before myself on 29 July of 2021.
- I heard evidence and I was satisfied that I was sure that on 7 December 2020, Mr Myles contacted the landlord and stated a friend had smashed one of his windows, thus showing that he had had a visitor at the time. But on 1 February 2021, the claimant received reports that there had been loud music, banging and shouting, visitors at the defendant’s property that had caused neighbours a nuisance and annoyance. The police attended and found the defendant playing loud music late at night. Thirdly, CCTV over 1 and 2 February 2021 showed a constant stream of visitors to the defendant’s property.
- Having found those breaches made out, I made an order that there would be a sentencing hearing and that is the purpose of the hearing today on 23 August. The entirety of the order explains what the court has done and explained amongst other things to Mr Myles that he had the right to appeal if he so wished. That order of mine with the notice of the sentencing hearing was served on Mr Myles on 10 August of this year by way of personal service and I have a statement of the process server.
- That brings us to what penalty, if any, the court should impose upon Mr Myles. Unfortunately, because Mr Myles has chosen not to attend court, there is no one to speak up for him by way of mitigation. Mr Warren for Brighter Places seeks to emphasise that his landlord does not want to see the punishment of Mr Myles in the way that one might see punishment in the criminal courts. What Brighter Places wishes to achieve is compliance by Mr Myles with his tenancy agreement and with court orders so that his neighbours and visitors to those neighbours can enjoy the neighbouring premises in an atmosphere of peace, quiet and tranquillity, rather than an atmosphere of disturbance, not least in the early hours.
- If Mr Myles were here, I might be minded to take a wait and see approach. But without hearing from Mr Myles, I cannot be confident that a wait and see approach would be successful because I cannot assess whether or not Mr Myles will now cooperate with the injunction orders. Mr Warren has told me that since the previous hearing, there has not been any reported further difficulty, which is a point in Mr Myles’ favour.
- With that in mind, I remind myself firstly of my powers, which are exceedingly limited compared to the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. I can of course impose no penalty. I can impose orders in the nature of a financial penalty but they tend to be rather pointless in cases of social housing. That leaves me then with my power to imprison for a term of up to two years and of course, I can suspend for a period of time on compliance with conditions, which I can stipulate.
- There are of course, the sentencing guidelines for breach of a criminal antisocial behaviour order. Those guidelines address other sentencing powers which I simply do not have and are really not a match for civil antisocial behaviour orders in cases but they can provide some guidance.
- So far as culpability is concerned, this would appear to be a category B case. Mr Myles appears to have made the decisions that he has made. He has not been forced into a situation not of his own making, at least on the information that I have. So far as harm is concerned, this is a lower end case but there has been a degree of harm to the neighbours who have been disturbed. So, this falls within category 2 but at the lower end. This would suggest a term of imprisonment of 12 weeks. However, my feeling is that that would be overly harsh. The ethos of the County Court, first and foremost is to secure compliance with its orders. It does not exist to punish and deter in the same way that the criminal laws in the criminal courts so exist.
- I consider that a term of imprisonment of 12 weeks would be disproportionate. However, it seems to me that a term of imprisonment is nonetheless appropriate. I am not able to give Mr Myles any credit but I consider that a term of imprisonment of 28 days would be appropriate. Because this is Mr Myles’ first attendance before the court with respect to committal proceedings and given I am heartened a little by his recent compliance, I am going to suspend the sentence. I will suspend it for a period of one year until 23 August next year. And the condition of suspension will be compliance with the current injunction order.
- Mr Warren has quite rightly reminded me that the injunction order has in fact since expired, so I will suspend on the compliance by Mr Myles with the terms of his tenancy agreement. And I think we should define that a little more closely to the behaviour terms, on compliance with 5.4 and 5.6.
- Brighter Places have succeeded in its application to commit Mr Myles and therefore, under the civil procedure rules, it is the victor in the litigation and the normal rule is the loser pays the winner’s costs. And I see no reason why Mr Myles should not pay the claimant’s costs. As invited, I will summarily assess those costs as the application to commit fee, which was £255.