Contempt of court and sentencing
In the case of Jerome Christie v Birmingham City Council – 14 December 2016 Birmingham City Council commenced injunction proceedings against 18 individuals, one of whom was Jerome Christie (Christie) under Section 34 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, to prevent gang related violence.
It was alleged that Christie was a member of one of two street gangs carrying out armed feuds with each other on the streets of Birmingham. A trial was scheduled for January 2017.
On 15 February 2016 a Circuit Judge granted Birmingham City Council 18 interim injunctions. The terms of Christie's Injunction prevented him, until further order, from possessing drugs, from associating with certain people and from entering certain areas of Birmingham. A trial was scheduled for January 2017.
On 26 February 2016 Christie was arrested and brought before a Circuit Judge for breach of the interim injunction after he was seen driving in the exclusion zone and being found in possession of cannabis. Christie denied being in the prohibited area and the proceedings were adjourned until 22 March 2016. Christie was remanded on bail in the meantime.
On 17 March 2016 Christie was arrested again for a further breach of the interim injunction having once more entered the exclusion zone. The hearing was adjourned so that both breaches could be dealt with on 22 March 2016.
On 22 March 2016 Christie admitted the first breach but denied the second. His Honour Judge McKenna heard oral evidence from Christie and a Police Officer who gave evidence to the effect that she had seen Christie in a stationary car within the exclusion zone. The Judge therefore found the second breach proved and Christie was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment for the first breach and 56 days for the second breach, with both sentences to run concurrently. The sentence was however suspended until "the expiry of the current injunction or any further order" and was not to be enforced if during that time Christie complied with the Injunction.
Christie appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that:
- The committal order had been made unlawfully because by virtue of Section 14(1) Contempt of Court Act 1981 it was wrong for His Honour Judge McKenna to suspend the term of imprisonment until the expiry of the injunction or any further order and that any suspension must be for no longer than two years, or if that were wrong, a fixed period of time. That section essentially states that where a court has the power to commit a person to prison for contempt of court then the term shall not exceed two years in the case of committal "by a superior Court", or one month in the case of committal by "an inferior Court."
- There had been insufficient evidence to find that he had been in the exclusion zone because the vehicle he was allegedly driving had tinted windows and the Police Officer could therefore have been mistaken.
- The sentence was excessive and disproportionate having regard to the facts of the case.
Christie's appeal was subsequently dismissed and the Court of Appeal held that:
- Christie had confused the provision where a period of imprisonment could not exceed two years rather than the period of a suspension. The period of the suspension was not limited to two years. Section 14(1) of the 1981 Act referred to the period of time for which the committal could be ordered and did not apply to the period for which it could be suspended. Furthermore, the Court had the power to suspend a committal order for an indefinite period (although in most circumstances it may not be appropriate to do so following the decision in Griffin v Griffin  2 FLR44, CA.)
- His Honour Judge McKenna had been entitled to find the Police Officer's evidence persuasive. In addition there was other compelling evidence that Christie's friend had owned the car, Christie could not say where he had been on the day in question, the car had previously been parked outside Christie's property and the car keys were found in Christie's home.
- Finally, in determining the period of imprisonment His Honour Judge McKenna had a duty to protect the public and a total of 56 days imprisonment for repeated breach of the injunction was not excessive.
The Court of Appeal agreed that where a committal order is suspended for breach of an interim injunction that it must be made explicit when that suspension will come to an end. In this case the Court of Appeal found that since Christie would know when the injunction had come to an end this was sufficient clarity for him.
This case confirms that robust committal orders will not be overturned by the Court of Appeal.