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Commercial Court hands down 18 month Committal Order for Contempt of Court

22nd May 2024

OCM Maritime Nile LLC & Anor v Courage Shipping Co & Ors [2024] EWHC 1226 (Comm) (21 May 2024)

In a long running commercial dispute, Cockerill J has made an order committing a defendant to prison for 18 months and confiscating his assets as a result of breaches of a worldwide freezing order and lies told in a witness statement. The judgment provides a definitive statement of the law of civil and criminal contempt of court in the commercial context by way of breach of court order, knowingly making false statements in documents verified by a statement of truth and knowingly making false affidavits. Cockerill J also addressed the sentencing guidelines for imprisonment in this context. Michael Ryan appeared for the successful claimant, OCM Maritime.

Following success at trial in obtaining orders for the repossession of two high-value commercial vessels, OCM successfully joined the controller of the defendant companies, Mr Abdul Jalil Mallah, to the action to seek a third party costs order and obtained a worldwide freezing order against Mr Mallah.

Following a two-day contempt trial at which Mr Mallah was cross-examined, Cockerill J found that Mr Mallah was in contempt of court on three counts:

  1. By failing to provide disclosure of his assets as required by the WFO. Cockerill J summarised the law of contempt by way of breach of court order, including the recent lines of authority in the Court of Appeal in Cuciurean v Secretary of State for Transport [2021] EWCA Civ 357 and Cuadrilla Bowland Ltd v Persons unknown [2020] 4 WLR 29.
  2. By making a witness statement in which Mr Mallah told various lies to excuse his non-compliance with the WFO, including his assertions that he was unaware of the order and that he had never instructed his previous solicitors of record. Cockerill J addressed the requirements for this head of contempt, namely falsity of statements made, interference (or propensity to interfere) with the course of justice, lack of honest belief in the truth of the statements and knowledge of propensity to interfere with the course of justice.
  3. By making and swearing an affidavit in purported compliance with the asset disclosure order under the WFO which Mr Mallah knew failed to give a complete account of his assets.

Cockerill J also addressed the law on knowingly making a false affidavits, confirming that this is a head of criminal contempt, but the Commercial Court retains an inherent jurisdiction to punish such conduct when arising during its proceedings.

The sentence for this conduct was 18 months plus an asset confiscation order, reflecting the seriousness of the contempt established. Cockerill J set out a comprehensive statement of the sentencing guidelines in this area.

Michael Ryan appeared for the successful Claimants instructed by Charles Weller and CJ Kim of Reed Smith.

To view a copy of the judgment please click here.

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