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Father escapes further punishment for contempt following conviction for courtroom assault

President gives judgment in contempt proceedings after assault in Southend county court

A father who assaulted his former partner in the course of family proceedings in the Southend County Court, has escaped further punishment for contempt of court because of his conviction and sentence in criminal proceedings arising from the attack.

In October 2013 Simon Ramet had been representing himself in proceedings concerning residence and contact of his child. As the judge gave judgment Mr Ramet attacked the mother, grabbed her, repeatedly punched her about the head with his clenched fist, grabbing her hair and kicking her after she had fallen to the floor. The court clerk went to her assistance and was himself assaulted.

Mr Ramet was subsequently convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and assault by beating. He was sentenced to 20 months' imprisonment for the assault occasioning actual bodily harm and four months' imprisonment (to run concurrently) for the common assault.

In Re Ramet Application for Committal for Contempt of Court [2014] EWHC 56 (Fam) the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has now given judgment in proceedings for Mr Ramet's committal for the attack.
He considered his role was to be sentencing for the contempt, not the crimes committed, as in ss 14 and 118 of the County Courts Act 1984; that he had to take into consideration the outcome of the Crown Court proceedings; that a person should not be punished twice for the same conduct. Sir James Munby held that the Crown Court had taken into consideration the location of the offence and the circumstances of the offence, namely that this was a retaliatory attack on the mother and found:

"[I]t would be wrong of me to impose any additional sentence on Mr Ramet. To do so would be to punish his twice for the same conduct."

The President expressed his concern at the inadequacy of the statutory penalties available under the 1984 Act and invited the Family Procedure Rules Committee to consider "whether there is some way in which, compatibility with the provisions of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, District Judges, Circuit Judges and Recorders can be given powers more extensive than those currently available to them in these cases."

Many lawyers have warned that without legal representation more litigants will cause disruption. Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has cautioned that cuts to legal aid could lead to people "taking the law into their own hands".

The judgment and case summary, by Akta Chipalkatty of Church Court Chambers, from which this news item is derived, is here.

24/1/14