Contempt in the Family Court/家庭法庭上的藐视法庭程序

CONTEMPT IN THE FAMILY COURT

**可以在下方查看本文章的华文版本

Divorce proceedings are unarguably one of the most difficult and stressful time for couples that are ending their marriage. All too often, the animosity between divorced spouses would lead to one party breaching the terms of the order for divorce. In a situation like this, the other party may initiate committal proceedings to hold his or her ex-spouse in contempt for refusing to obey the Court order.

What is contempt of Court?

In general, a person being in contempt of Court has committed a serious offence since the person is found to be disobedient or disrespectful towards the Court. He or she is also considered to be interfering with the due administration or the course of justice. In family law, contempt of Court often occurs when a party wilfully and/or deliberately ignores or breaches a Court order. Some examples of contempt in the family law context include: –

  • Where one party refuses to allow the other party access to the children;
  • Where one party fails to return the children to the other party at the end of the period of access as stipulated in the Court order;
  • Where one party fails to pay spousal and/or children maintenance;
  • Where one party does not deliver or transfer the property according to the Court order.

The initiation of committal proceedings is thus a common way to declare the person to be in contempt of court. It assists the enforcement of Court orders relating to child and spousal maintenance, as well as custody and visitation orders. Any ex-spouse, who is found guilty of contempt of court, could be fined, imprisoned or both.

Prerequisites to Enforcement

If the Court order is injunctive in nature i.e. requiring a person to do or to abstain from doing an act within a specified time, Order 45 rule 5 of the Rules of Court 2012 would apply. Under this provision, the rules require there to be a penal endorsement on the Court order. The penal endorsement is usually located at the end of the Court order giving notice to the person on whom the order is served that if he neglects to obey the order within the time specified therein, he would be liable to the process of execution to compel him to obey it.

An example of an injunctive Court order would be where a party is obliged to dispose of the matrimonial home and to pay the other party the entitled share of the sale proceeds within a certain time frame, but had failed to do so.

It is pertinent to note that a failure to include a penal endorsement is usually fatal to an application for committal proceedings under this provision. However, there are other methods* available to enforce the Court order in the event that such penal endorsement is missing.

 Lastly, the Court order bearing the appropriate penal endorsement must also have been served personally on the person against whom the order of committal is sought or via his/her solicitors.

Filing for committal proceedings

The procedure in applying for committal proceedings is set out in Order 52 of the Rules of Court 2012. It is a two-step process, which begins with the filing of an ex-parte** application for leave to initiate committal proceedings at Court together with a statement setting out the reasons for the committal proceedings. An affidavit verifying the facts relied on must also be filed with the leave application.

In the event the Court finds that there is a prima facie case against the person committing the contempt (also known as “the contemnor”), the Court will grant leave to continue with the next step of the committal proceedings; the application for a committal order against the proposed contemnor. The application must then be personally served on the proposed contemnor, where there must be at least 8 days between the service and the hearing. In a situation where the proposed contemnor is evading service, the Court may dispense with personal service or allow substituted service.

As the contemnor might face harsh punishment for breaching the Court order, strict compliance with the Rules of Court 2012 is necessary.

Criminal standard of proof

As committal proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature, the criminal standard of proving beyond reasonable doubt is applied to demonstrate that the proposed contemnor has breached the Court order.

Consequences of being held in contempt

If the Court decides to grant an order for committal against the contemnor, the contemnor may either be imprisoned or fined.  The Court has the discretion when ordering punishment for contempt and the term of imprisonment or the amount of the fine would largely depend on the seriousness of the contempt.

An example of how the Court may exercise its discretion when ordering punishments can be seen in the case of Low Swee Siong v. Tan Siew Siew [2011] 9 CLJ 536. In this case, the High Court held the husband to be in contempt of Court for taking and keeping the child away from the wife. The High Court imposed a fine of RM20,000, and in default of the fine, to be committed to two months of imprisonment. Furthermore, the High Court held that the husband would also be fined an additional RM400 for every day he continued not to hand over the child until he complies with the same.

Further, a person committed may be sentenced to remain in prison indefinitely until he purges his contempt i.e. complies with the Court order. The recent case of Sharmila M Helan Govan v. Gunalan Govindasamy [2020] 1 LNS 125 is an illustration of how serious the Court may treat contempt in family proceedings. In this case, the husband was held to be in contempt of the Decree Nisi which had ordered him to pay maintenance for his child. In finding that the husband had shown a total disregard and defiance to the rules of Court and the proceedings therein, the High Court sentenced the husband to be imprisoned until he purges his contempt.

Conclusion

It suffices to say that being found in contempt of a Court order is extremely serious, and the sanctions imposed can be severe.  Many divorced spouses are under the misconception that a Court order for divorce is merely an A4 document with written words on it, but it is imperative to note that divorce orders, as with all Court orders, are legally binding with serious legal consequences if disregarded.

*Will be discussed in the next article

**No appearance or attendance of the person accused to be in contempt or his/her solicitors 

By: Jaclyn Chang

DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice and/or legal opinion. Messrs Yeoh & Joanne accepts no liability for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in this article.

 

家庭法庭上的藐视法庭程序

离婚诉讼无疑是结束婚姻的夫妇最困难和最有压力的时期之一。离婚配偶之间的敌意往往会导致一方违反离婚协议的条款。在这种情况下,另一方可以前配偶以藐视及拒绝服从法院命令启动拘押程序。

什么是藐视法庭?

一般来说,藐视法庭的人犯了严重的罪行,因为该人被认定不服从或不尊重法庭。他或她也被认为是在妨碍法庭行政管理或司法程序。在家庭法中,当一方任意和/或故意无视或违反法庭令时,就是发生藐视法庭的情况。在家庭法里,藐视法庭的一些例子包括:-

  • 当一方拒绝允许另一方探视孩子;
  • 当一方未能在法院命令规定的探视期限结束时将子女交还给另一方;
  • 当一方未支付配偶和/或子女抚养费;
  • 当一方未根据法院命令交付或转让财产。

因此,启动拘押程序是宣布该人藐视法庭的常见方式。该程序将协助执行与子女和配偶赡养费有关以及监护和探视权的法庭令。任何被判藐视法庭罪的前配偶都可能被罚款、监禁或两者两者兼施。

强制执行法庭令的先决条件

如果法庭令具有禁令性质,即要求某人在规定时间内执行或不执行任何行为,则适用《2012年法庭条例》第45条文第5项。根据这项条文要求,法院命令上必须有一项刑事背书。该刑事背书通常位于法庭令的末尾,通知执行命令的人,如果他或她忽略在法庭令中规定的时间内服从或执行命令,他或她将有责任在执行过程中被迫使服从或执行命令。

禁止令的一个例子是,当有义务处理婚姻房产的其中一方当事人需要在一定时间内出售该房产并从销售收益中支付另一方当事人他或她应得的份额,但未能做到。

值得注意的是,根据以上提及的条文如果刑事背书没被包括在法庭命令里,通常当事人没有办法提出拘押程序申请,而且这也是一项不能被挽救的情况。然而,在缺少这种刑事背书的情况下,当事人可以使用其他方法*于执行法院命令。

最后,附有适当刑事背书的法庭令也必须亲自送达被要求回应拘押令的人或通过他/她的律师送达。

提交拘押程序

《2012年法庭条例》第52条文规定了申请拘押程序的步骤。该步骤分为两部分,首先是单方面向法院申请可以在法院启动拘押程序的准许**,并附上陈述拘押程序的理由。陈述依据事实的宣誓书也必须与准许申请一起提交。

如果法院认定对犯有藐视罪的人(也称为“藐视者”)有初步证据,法院将准许继续进行拘押程序的下一步;即针对该被提议藐视法庭者的拘押令申请。申请人必须亲自送达申请书给该被提议藐视法庭者,在送达和听证之间必须有至少8天的时间。在被提议藐视者逃避送达的情况下,法院可以免除个人送达或允许替代送达。

由于藐视法庭者可能因违反法庭命令而面临严厉处罚,因此当事人必须严格遵守《2012年法庭条例》。

刑事证明标准

由于拘押程序在性质上属于半刑事性质,因此适用“无合理怀疑”的刑事证明标准来证明被提议藐视法庭者违反了法院命令。

被裁定藐视法庭的后果

如果法院决定对藐视法庭者发出拘押令,藐视法庭者可能被监禁或罚款。法院在下令对藐视法庭罪进行处罚时拥有酌处权,监禁期限或罚款数额将在很大程度上取决于藐视法庭罪的严重性。

法院在下令处罚时如何行使其酌处权的一个例子可以在Low Swee Siong v. Tan Siew Siew [2011] 9 CLJ 536一案中看到。在这一案件中,高等法院认为丈夫因将孩子带离妻子而藐视法庭。高等法院判处2万令吉的罚款,如果没有支付罚款,将被判处两个月的监禁。此外,高等法院认为,丈夫如果继续不交出孩子,每天还会被罚款400令吉,直到他遵守法庭令为止。

此外,触犯藐视法庭罪的人可能被判处无限期监禁,直到他解除其藐视法庭罪,即遵守法院命令。最近的Sharmila M Helan Govan v. Gunalan Govindasamy [2020] 1 LNS 125案件说明了法院在家庭诉讼中法法庭如何严肃对待藐视法庭。在这种情况下,丈夫被认为藐视命令支付子女抚养费法院命令。高等法院认定丈夫完全无视和蔑视法庭条例和其中的诉讼程序,因此判处丈夫监禁,直到他解除该蔑视行为为止(支付法庭令中规定的赡养费)。

结论

可以说,被判藐视法庭令是极其严重的行为,实施的制裁可能是严厉的。许多离婚配偶都有一种误解,认为法院的离婚令只是一份上面有文字的A4纸文件,但必须指出,与所有法院命令一样,离婚令具有法律约束力,如果不予理会,会产生严重的法律后果。

*将在下一篇文章中讨论

* *被指控藐视法庭的人或其律师不需要出庭或出席

 文章来自于:张美琪律师 (Jaclyn Chang Mei Qi)

文章翻译:李淑婷律师 (Lee Su Ting)

 

免责声明:本文仅供参考,不应作为法律建议和/或法律意见。Yeoh & Joanne律师事务所不会承担因依赖本文所含信息而产生的任何损失的责任。

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