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Durrell v Scaife[2021]

Sentence of eight weeks ordered in committal proceedings for calling the Judge “a stupid cunt” and putting the judge in fear of his safety


In the course of private law children proceedings, the husband swore at the Judge, threw a letter and a roll of blue towel at him, and then approached the Judge's dias in an aggressive manner.  The Husband largely admitted the allegations at an early stage and apologised.  The court noted that if his behaviour had been limited to swearing, it was unlikely that he would have been subject to committal proceedings.  The Judge had not been hit, and there were no threats to hit him, but he had been put in fear.  The starting point for such an offence was 12 weeks' imprisonment, which was reduced by a third to reflect the admission and apology

Case summary by Dr Martina van der Leij, Barrister, Field Court Chambers


This judgment was delivered in public. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the children of the family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.
This Transcript is Crown Copyright.  It may not be reproduced in whole or in part other than in accordance with relevant licence or with the express consent of the Authority.  All rights are reserved. 


Leeds Combined Court 1 Oxford Row Leeds LS1 3BG
Date: Friday, 19th February 2021
Start Time: 15:11   Finish Time: 15:34
   Page Count: 4
  Word Count: 1496
   Number of Folios: 21

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THE APPLICANT appeared in Person
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Judgment and Sentence on Committal Proceedings
Digital Transcription by Marten Walsh Cherer Ltd.,
2nd Floor, Quality House, 6-9 Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HP.
Telephone No: 020 7067 2900. DX 410 LDE


1. The first task in these committal proceedings is to determine whether or not the allegations which found the charge that there has been a contempt in the face of the court are proved, and that means that they have to be proved to the criminal standard so that I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt.  If I was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to any of the allegations, I would dismiss that allegation.

2. There are four allegations, and they are to an extent admitted, and to an extent challenged.  The allegations are set out in the particulars contained in the notice served on Mr Durrell by the Court and are supported by the sworn statement of the Recorder.  I have also had an opportunity to hear the tape recording of the incident and read the transcript of the hearing.  The Recorder has given evidence and I have asked him the questions which Mr Durrell wanted put, he preferring that I should do this for him rather than doing so directly.  Mr Durrell is not represented and declined an adjournment for that purpose. 

3. As to the four allegations, I find as follows:

1. As Mr Durrell admits, he addressed the judge in the courtroom as "you stupid cunt".  I therefore find that proved.

2. That he rose from his seat, approached the Bench, and threw an envelope at the judge.  Mr Durrell accepts that allegation.  There was an initial reservation when Mr Durrell claimed that he threw the envelope towards the judge rather than specifically at him, but I have heard, as has he, from the Recorder that the judge saw it passing him on his left side, he says at about ear level, and I accept that description as Mr Durrell no longer challenges it.

3. The third allegation is that Mr Durrell turned around, grabbed a heavy roll of paper towel, and threw it at the judge, while continuing to shout obscenities, and / or issuing other threatening language at the judge.  Mr Durrell accepts that he did turn around, grabbed the heavy roll of paper towel, and threw it in the judge's direction, but denies continuing to shout obscenities and / or issuing other threatening language.  The affidavit of the Recorder says that the roll of towel was picked up and thrown at him while Mr Durrell continued to swear.  In fact, the transcript does not in itself refer to additional swear words beyond those that were given at the very start, and which found the first allegation, and I limit my findings to those which Mr Durrell accepts: Namely, that he turned around, grabbed a heavy roll of paper towel, and threw it in the judge's direction.

4. The fourth allegation is that he approached the Bench for a second time, in an aggressive manner, and threatened the judge.  Again, Mr Durrell accepts in part but not in whole.  He agrees that he approached the Bench for a second time, that he went through the wicket gate leading onto the dais, and he did so in an aggressive manner so as to put the judge in fear.  It seems to me that that is an admission which goes almost as far and almost identically with what is alleged, so I find proved that Mr Durrell approached the Bench for a second time in an aggressive manner, and went through the wicket gate, so as to put the judge in fear for his safety.

4. I therefore find those contempts proved to the criminal standard, and this case will now move onto the second part, namely the appropriate sentence for these contempts.  

5. I now have to deal with the appropriate sentence for this contempt.  I of course take into account your admission at an early stage, and your apologies, which I accept are genuine, and those go to reduce the seriousness of the punishment.  And I take into account that these were emotional proceedings involving your contact to your children.  But I also bear in mind that your behaviour was not simply a swear word, which I am sure would have been overlooked.

6. The fact that you called the judge what you did would not, in normal circumstances, lead you to appearing before this court.  But from close range you threw an envelope at him, and then more seriously the large cylindrical roll of blue paper used in the current circumstances for wiping surfaces.  I have seen the photograph of it.  Fortunately it missed the judge, but if it had hit him, it would have been likely to hurt him.  You then went through the wicket gate, went on to the Bench, and approached the judge, and you put him in fear of assault.

7. You were in a small courtroom.  I have seen photographs of it, and while not the smallest, it is typical of the sort of room that judges, especially district judges, work in day-in, day-out, and the court system relies on litigants behaving themselves.  The presence of security is not a feature of our family justice system unless there happen to be cause for some particular anxieties, which there were not in your case.

8. I want to thank the usher who gallantly put himself between you and the judge, but it is a matter of public importance that judges and litigants and court staff know that this sort of disruptive and aggressive behaviour will be punished.

9. I bear in mind, as I have said, that you apologised and that you have admitted the offence at the earliest opportunity. I acknowledge that these were difficult circumstances for you.  I accept that you did not hit the judge, and nor did you in fact threaten to hit the judge, although it is not at all surprising, having read the transcript, how the judge thought that you were about to hit him.

10. The very experienced Recorder has said that this was a unique and frightening experience, the first and worst of its sort in over twenty years of sitting, and I cannot overlook the effect of what you did, and the fear that you put him in.

11. My starting point for an offence of this nature, where the judge was not physically hit, although in fear of that result, would be twelve weeks' imprisonment.  I reduce the sentence by a third to give proper credit to your admission and apology.  That produces a term of eight weeks' imprisonment.
12. I have considered whether I can suspend it, but in my view it is too serious to do so.  Provided of course you behave, you will be released halfway through the sentence, and so you would therefore expect to serve a term of four weeks.  But my sentence is one of eight weeks' imprisonment, and that is the order that I make.  
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(This Judgment has been approved by the Judge.) 

Digital Transcription by Marten Walsh Cherer Ltd.,
2nd Floor, Quality House, 6-9 Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HP.
Telephone No: 020 7067 2900. DX 410 LDE