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18 JUN 2007

CONTEMPT/CONTACT: G v G (Contempt: Sentencing)

(Court of Appeal; Thorpe and Arden LJJ and Hedley J; 6 June 2007) The child had been placed with the maternal grandmother, and the mother was seeking contact. The maternal grandmother had obtained an injunction against the mother with a power of arrest under Family Law Act 1996, Pt 4. The mother had breached the injunction on a number of occasions and at the previous three committal hearings had received: a suspended custodial sentence; a remand in custody for psychiatric evaluation (unsuccessful because the mother had refused to be interviewed by the psychiatrist); and an immediate custodial sentence of 3 months. The mother had consistently appeared in person and refused to obtain legal representation. The maternal grandmother applied for committal for a fourth time, alleging 19 further breaches of the injunction. The judge, who did not raise the possibility of legal representation with the defendant mother, found that the injunction had been breached and sentenced the mother to an immediate custodial sentence of 6 months.

The judge had been justified in not raising the issue of legal representation as it was quite clear that the defendant mother would have refused the opportunity to obtain such representation. The judge had also been entitled to find that there had been breaches of the injunction. However, the mother should have been given an opportunity to address matters as to sentencing. In all the circumstances, although the judge had been entitled to impose an immediate sentence of imprisonment, the defendant mother would be immediately released to give her the opportunity to prepare properly for the trial of the contact issues.

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