Committal for Contempt of Court: The Borough Council of Sandwell -v- Purdie

CivilCounty CourtCommittal for Contempt of Court

Case Number: K00DD354

In The County Court at Walsall

14 March 2024

Her Honour Judge Saira Singh

The Borough Council of Sandwell
Michael Purdie


MR T LAWAL appeared on behalf of the Claimant
THE DEFENDANT appeared In Person


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  1. This is my judgment on the appropriate order to make as a consequence of my finding earlier today that the defendant, Mr Michael Purdie, breached the terms of the Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction made on 27 June 2023. The injunction was made final on 6 July 2023. The claimant was represented today by Mr Lawal of counsel. The defendant represented himself having been given an opportunity at three previous hearings to obtain legal representation. He told the Court that he had been unable to do so. He was reminded of his right to silence and not to answer any questions the answers to which might incriminate him. He did choose to give evidence and make observations to the Court and also asked limited questions of one of the witnesses. I considered those when I was giving my judgment as to whether there the allegations of breach had been made out.
  2. The terms of the injunction in relevant part forbade the defendant:
    “…whether by himself or by instructing or encouraging any other person from engaging in or threatening to engage in conduct causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or a nuisance or annoyance to any resident, visitor or person engaging in lawful activity within the neighbourhood of the property 340 Birchfield Lane, Oldbury”.
  3. The claimant alleged that the defendant breached the terms of the injunction between 6.00pm on 23 September 2023 and 4.00am on 24 September 2023. The defendant was arrested on 26 September and brought before the Court on 27 September having spent a day in custody. Written particulars of the alleged breaches were contained in the claimant’s application dated 24 October 2023. The application was supported by evidence from Mrs Gurdeep Kaur and Mr Ian Wooton, the Anti-Social Behaviour team leader at the claimant Council. The defendant today admitted the breaches and in light of that admission and the evidence that I heard, I determined that I was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the claimant had proven its allegations and that the defendant had breached paragraph (i) of the injunction dated 27 June 2023. The nature of the breach was that the defendant and/or his guest were fighting and deliberately stamping their feet on the ceiling of his property and the noise was still ongoing at 10.00pm on 23 September and that on 23 September at 11.30pm, the defendant and/or his guest engaged in deliberate noise nuisance which continued until 4.00am on 24 September 2023.
  4. In determining the appropriate sentence, I refer to the Court of Appeal decision in Lovett v Wigan Borough Council [2022] EWCA Civ 1631 for the relevant principles.
  5. The objectives of sentencing for civil contempt are to ensure future compliance with the order, punish the offender and secure rehabilitation of the offender.
  6. The powers available to the Court are an order for the immediate committal of the defendant to prison, an order for committal but suspended with conditions, an order adjourning consideration of a penalty, a fine or making no order at all on the breaches. Custody should be reserved for the most serious breaches or for less serious breaches where other methods of securing compliance have failed.
  7. The custody threshold requires the Court to consider whether the proven breach is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified. The custody threshold must be passed before the Court can consider imposing a suspended term of imprisonment. The Court may adjourn for consideration of sentence in an appropriate case and the adjournment may be used as an opportunity to speak directly to the contemnor about their behaviour.
  8. Mr Lawal, counsel for the Claimant, helpfully highlighted matters the Court may wish to take into consideration when passing sentence. The defendant also took the opportunity to address the Court on potential mitigating factors, namely, that he admitted the breaches, that he recognised the distress his conduct had caused Mrs Kaur, that he had called the police to remove the visitor to his flat on the date in question, that he no longer had a dog and that he no longer received visitors whom he referred to as “bad elements”.
  9. I have to consider the concepts of “culpability” and “harm”. There are three levels of culpability: “high culpability” which is likely to involve a very serious breach or persistent serious breaches; a “deliberate breach” which is less serious but is more than a minor breach; and thirdly, “lower culpability” which is likely to involve a minor breach or breaches.
  10. The level of harm is determined by weighing up all of the factors of the case to determine the harm that was caused or was at risk of being caused by the breach. In assessing any risk of harm posed by the breach, consideration should be given to the fact or activity which led to the order being made.
  11. “Category 1” is the most serious where the breach causes very serious harm or distress. “Category 2” is the middle category between 1 and 3 and “Category 3” is a breach which causes little or no harm or distress. The grid in Lovett v Wigan provides a range for each category depending on which category of culpability and harm applies to a given case and gives a starting point. There may be aggravating factors that might lead to an increase from the starting point, such as a history of disobedience, the particular vulnerability of any victim of the behaviour and whether there were persistent breaches. The Court then considers whether there are any mitigating factors that could decrease the sentence which might include genuine remorse, ill-health, age or lack of maturity. An early admission is likely to be a significant mitigating factor.
  12. Turning to the circumstances of this case, I will first consider culpability. This is not a case where there was violence or a threat of serious violence. There was significant noise nuisance which caused distress to Mrs Kaur. It led her to call the police in the early hours of 24 September. She takes sleeping tablets and her unchallenged evidence was that she considered taking her own life. I accept that the defendant did not intend to cause her or anyone else harm by the breach. In my judgment, this breach falls into Category C but at the upper end of that category.
  13. In terms of harm, the Court has to consider the impact of the breaches and in this regard, the Court has the evidence of Mrs Kaur which is that the breaches caused her significant distress over the period that they were occurring which was 10 hours through the night and into the early hours. I have also taken into account that she is an elderly lady who lives alone which makes her particularly vulnerable. I put the breaches in Category 2, falling between “very serious harm or distress” and “little harm or distress”.
  14. The category range in the Lovett v Wigan grid based on my assessment of this as a C2 case is adjourned consideration to one month, the starting point being adjourned consideration. I then need to consider aggravating factors. The breaches occurred persistently over a period of 10 hours during which time Mrs Kaur was unable to sleep and was distressed. They occurred two months after the injunction was made and are similar in nature to the allegations that led to the injunction being made in the first place. I was told that there have been other breaches but there is no detail of them before the Court and so I do not take them into account. The nature of the breaches and the vulnerability of Mrs Kaur have already been taken into account when considering the harm that was caused by the breach and I am satisfied that there are no further aggravating factors.
  15. In terms of mitigating factors, I take into account that the defendant has admitted the breaches today, but I remind myself that there have been several hearings before this one where no admissions were made. The matter could perhaps have been dealt with earlier had admissions been made. I do take into account though that the defendant is a litigant in person and at each hearing, he was reminded of his right to silence which may have influenced his decision not to make any admissions or indeed, say anything. Nevertheless, in my judgment, while credit should be given for his admission today, such credit would be limited.
  16. There are, however, other mitigating factors. The defendant has recognised the distress he caused to Mrs Kaur. He has taken steps to avoid a repeat by giving away his dog and changing his lifestyle so he does not have the kind of visitors who may increase the likelihood of further breaches. He says he has taken steps to eliminate the noise, and on the night in question he did call the police to remove a visitor to his flat who he said was very drunk.
  17. I do not consider that this is a case where any purpose would be served by adjourning consideration of a sentence in circumstances where it is already six months since the breaches occurred and there has been considerable time for consideration already.
  18. Given the vulnerability of Mrs Kaur and the impact that the breach had on her, albeit that there was one breach that persisted over a number of hours, I am satisfied that the custody threshold has been met. In my judgment, taking into account the purpose of sentencing which includes ensuring the future compliance with the order, the appropriate sentence is seven days. Given the time spent on remand in custody which is one day, credit should be given for that and that reduces the sentence to six days.
  19. In light of the defendant’s evidence that he has taken steps to avoid further breaches and causing noise nuisance or alarm or distress to Mrs Kaur, in my judgment, this is a case where a suspended sentence is appropriate to give the defendant the opportunity to demonstrate that he can comply with the injunction. Accordingly, the sentence of six days in prison is suspended until 27 June 2024 which is when the injunction expires, on condition that the defendant continues to comply with the terms of the injunction.
  20. The defendant has a right of appeal against this judgment, any such appeal to be made to a High Court judge at the Birmingham District Registry and any appellant’s notice must be filed by 4.00pm on 4 April 2024.
  21. That is my judgment.
    End of Judgment.