Making Committal Orders Really Work

On Friday 28th June Mr Justice Warby completed the review of a committal for contempt of court made under a judgment of 4th June 2019 [see here] described by him as "highly unusual" and "probably unique" in the effectiveness of the committal order.

The case concerned the theft of valuable IP represented by thousands of electronic files used to modify electronic engine management systems. The Defendant was ordered to deliver up all his physical and web-based electronic storage systems under a without notice order backed by a penal notice. He breached that order by delivering up an assortment of replica or obsolete storage media, whilst taking steps to conceal a drop-box account on which the whole of the Claimant's data base had been secreted.

After a 2 day hearing Mr Justice Warby found the Defendant guilty on 2 of 3 counts of contempt on 4th June 2019. He was sentenced to 7 months in prison. The Judge however deferred the start of the sentence for 28 days to give the Defendant an opportunity to purge his contempt and address further non-compliance with the order for delivery up on which the Judge had indicated deep scepticism but was not satisfied to the criminal standard sufficient to find a contempt of court. The Judge indicated that if within the 28 days of deferral the Defendant made a full confession he would consider remitting up to half the custodial sentence.

The order worked beyond what could have been hoped for or expected on 4th June 2019. By the hearing on 28th June the Defendant had progressively admitted to each of the contempts found against him and the further count on which the Judge did not find the application proved to the criminal standard. He finally admitted to possession of the Claimant's entire data base and delivered it up on 26th June 2019 at the same time as identifying and granting forensic access to 3 further web-based electronic storage accounts and another 4 laptops.

Deferring a sentence of immediate imprisonment for contempt of court, whilst giving a non-binding indication of what credit might be given if there is both full verifiable compliance and an explanation of the contempt is a new and highly effective variation to the committal jurisdiction. It is far more effective than suspending a term of imprisonment for committal and equally more effective than the common practice of merely promising a contemnor that if they purge their contempt whilst in custody, they might receive a reduction in sentence. In practical terms, effectively purging contempt is difficult in custody. More importantly, for the contemnor, the deferral period whilst at liberty both focusses the mind and incentivises compliance.

The Claimant, Quantum Tuning Ltd is a leading UK supplier of electronic vehicle engine management modification software.

James Ramsden QC acted as sole counsel for QTL.