Committal Proceedings – it’s all change!

Changes to Part 81: Applications and Proceedings in Relation to Contempt of Court.

Proceedings for contempt of court are a common enforcement tool for practitioners in a plethora of practice areas in both civil and criminal work. In social housing, committal applications are a regular feature in enforcing breaches of injunctions made on grounds of anti-social behaviour, or breaches of tenancy.

Prior to 1 October 2020, the 38 rules in Part 81 concerning contempt, supplemented by a Practice Direction to Part 81 and Court Forms in Practice Direction 4, were considered unnecessarily lengthy and archaic.

This year’s changes, brought about by the Civil Procedure (Amendment No.3) Rules 2020, replace the former rules, revoke the former practice direction and introduce five new forms for contempt in Practice Direction 4. The reforms are intended to streamline and simplify the rules in order to make applications and proceedings for contempt of court more accessible and efficient.

The new Part 81 now comprises only 10 rules, on the following:

How to make a contempt application                                      Rule 81.3

Requirements of a contempt application                                 Rule 81.4

Service of a contempt application                                             Rule 81.5

Cases where no application is made                                         Rule 81.6

Directions for hearing of contempt proceedings                  Rule 81.7

Hearings and judgments in contempt proceedings             Rule 81.8

Powers of the court in contempt proceedings                      Rule 81.9

Applications to discharge committal orders                           Rule 81.10

This represents a significant reduction of the former rules and a complete revocation of the former Practice Direction in exchange for a more concise set of logically organised rules which cover the essential areas of practice and procedure.

Applications for committal proceedings will generally be commenced using the standard Application rules in Part 23, unless otherwise stated in rule 81.3. The contents and requirements of any committal application are detailed in Rule 81.4, but there is no change to the requirement for parties to rely on affidavit evidence, as opposed to Witness Statements, to meet the criminal standard of proof.

Parties will now be referred to as ‘Claimants’ and ‘Defendants’ as opposed to ‘Applicants and Respondents’ and a new feature of the rules, particularly favourable for Claimants, is an exception to the requirement for personal service of an application. Rule 85.1(2) now allows for personal service to be dispensed with, where “a legal representative for the defendant is on the record in the proceedings…”. Whilst the rules are clearly aimed at assisting Claimants in avoiding issues from service, such as adjournments and the potential for sanctions we know that, in practice, it is unlikely that at the point when service is required, there are going to be solicitors on record for the Defendant with instructions (or indeed funding) to accept and pass on proceedings. Solicitors acting for Defendants are empowered to object in writing within seven days’ of receipt of the application (CPR 81.5(a)) at which point the issue of service shall be referred to a judge to be dealt with on paper (CPR 81.5(c)).

The new rules on Applications and proceedings in relation to contempt of court under Part 81 therefore seem like a welcome simplification and streamlining of the former rules and practice direction, and we hope that they will provide and create clarity and improved efficiency for both practitioners and Courts.