Respect the judge or face the consequences
Using the family court to resolve a dispute can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life and the whole process can bring out all sorts of emotions. No matter what each party may be feeling, it is important to remember that in any court hearing, whether it is in person, on the phone or on a screen, the parties must pay the utmost respect to the judge or face the consequences.
A recent family case highlights this. The parents were attending a case management hearing with the hearing being conducted over the telephone rather than in person. The father repeatedly spoke over and interrupted the district judge and at one point swore at the judge who then placed the father on mute to allow directions to be given to the parties uninterrupted. When unmuted the father responded with further abuse.
The father then told the district judge he was recording the hearing for himself and was going to put it in the public domain. When he was warned this would amount to contempt of court, he said: ‘Mate, I’m not bothered what you say.’
The Court had no choice but to hold a subsequent contempt of court hearing to determine what punishment the father should face for his comments and disrespect to the Court. The judge presiding over this hearing made it clear that while judges have a ‘degree of tolerance’ towards emotional displays of frustration or anger, there was no excuse for insulting a judge or repeatedly disrupting a hearing with outbursts of abuse. The fact that a court hearing takes place on the telephone, or by video-link, makes it no less a court hearing and the judge conducting a hearing is no less a judge. The same respect for the process and the dignity of the Court is expected from all participants, whether they are participating by telephone, video, or physically sitting in a court room.
The father was was given a 14-day prison sentence suspended for 12 months after the Court heard of his personal difficulties, his contrition and his acceptance that his conduct had been inappropriate.
Tina Kingsbury is a solicitor in the family team at Barker Gotelee, solicitors in Suffolk.