Lucinda Connell, leading female lawyer at Major Family Law, divorce and family law specialists in Ponteland, comments a recent family case heard in the High Court highlights the lack of tolerance repeatedly being demonstrated in family law cases where non-disclosure of matrimonial assets is an issue.  Following a decision to hand out a nine-month custodial sentence with a European arrest warrant attached, senior family Judge Mr Justice Mostyn stated clearly that the rule of law depends on compliance with court orders.

In Sarah Kimura Al-Baker v Abdul Amir Al-Baker [2015] EWHC 3229 (Fam) the wife issued divorce proceedings in January 2015 following a 45-year marriage.  The husband, however, produced a Talaq divorce, a controversial practice said to have been effected in the United Arab Emirates.  The husband challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court and refused to engage with any of the disclosure orders issued against him. He also remained outside of the UK, described in court by counsel as ‘pulling up the drawbridge’.

Mr Justice Mostyn imposed what is thought to be the longest immediate custodial sentence for non-disclosure in the history of the family court.  Giving his judgment, Mostyn J said: “I regard this as a worse case in terms of the obloquy of the respondent than the case of Young v Young [2013] EWHC 34 (Fam) where the sentence for non-disclosure that was awarded by the court was six months imprisonment.”  He continued: “…the rule of law depends on compliance with court orders and where court orders are not complied with then the court should take an adamantine approach unless there is good excuse. And no good excuse has been advanced here.”

A European arrest warrant was subsequently issued by the court against the husband.

Committal for contempt of court is the court’s toughest sanction and a high threshold must be proven to be met before it can be imposed.  In this case Mostyn J was clearly satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that such a threshold had been met and the decision shows that the court is taking a much tougher approach to ensure its orders are enforced against those wilfully refusing to comply.