Contempt of court – no laughing matter

A woman has been jailed for a year for failing to provide honest financial disclosure in litigation relating to her mother’s estate. We explain the case, and the serious consequences of not fully and honestly complying with Court orders.

A twelve month immediate custodial sentence has been handed down to Mrs Devinder Sandhu following her failure to comply with financial disclosure orders in litigation over her mother’s estate, and her “flawed and deceitful” statements about her assets. The judge in the recent case of Kimyani v Sandhu felt that Mrs Sandhu showed no respect or contrition for failing to adhere to the various orders, and therefore passed down the sentence accordingly. The case highlights the gravity of attempting to conceal or mislead the Court, particularly where an individual’s finances are concerned.

The underlying proceedings relate to the administration of the estate of Mrs Sandhu’s late mother. In the course of those proceedings, Mrs Sandhu’s three siblings applied for a freezing injunction against their sister, which was granted on 30 March 2017 with a further hearing set for 6 April. At the hearing, orders were made compelling Mrs Sandhu to disclose by 11 April all of her worldwide assets worth over £1,000, and to produce by 18 April written details of all the bank accounts which she had used and property interests which she had enjoyed since the beginning of 2014.

In particular, Mrs Sandhu was required to provide full details of a property transaction in which she was understood to have sold a property for the total consideration of £390,000, made up of a cash sum of £270,000 and a parcel of land in Spain worth £120,000. Mrs Sandhu was to specify how the £270,000 was paid, and also to reveal the current location of the money. Care was taken during the hearing to ensure that Mrs Sandhu was both aware of, and understood, the terms of the order.

However, neither deadline was observed by Mrs Sandhu and as a result an application for committal commenced on 21 April 2017. Subsequently, just before the matter returned to Court, Mrs Sandhu finally sent witness statement evidence to her siblings’ solicitors on 10 May, purporting to respond to the various provisions contained within the original disclosure order. In the course of the hearing on 11 May, however, Mrs Sandhu ultimately admitted that her statement failed to detail her bank accounts, was false in a number of important respects, and was neither a frank nor an accurate representation of events.

The matter subsequently appeared before the Court again on 15 May, at which point Mrs Sandhu swore an affidavit containing different evidence. This later emerged as contradictory and misleading.

On 17 May, the judge dealing with the matter, Mr Justice Newey, ruled that Mrs Sandhu was well aware of the terms of the financial disclosure orders of 6 April but nevertheless breached those orders by failing to respond to them until 10 May. He went on to say that the matter would not have been
so serious, despite the statement being late, if it wasn’t also for the fact that the evidence which was eventually provided was also false and deficient in important respects. Mrs Sandhu’s attempt to salvage matters on 15 May was contradictory and deceitful, and still did not satisfy the demands of the original orders.

The judge appeared unconvinced that Mrs Sandhu was contrite, nor that she was suffering from anxiety and depression which her Counsel had suggested explained her behaviour. Rather, he found that her actions testified to a continued disregard of the importance of court orders and that she should accordingly be sentenced to twelve months in custody. He outlined that Mrs Sandhu could apply to reduce her sentence by up to six months, if she took immediate steps to comply with the order fully and promptly following her committal.

The case is not the first this year to see an individual jailed for failing to comply with financial disclosure orders - a company director was sentenced for a similar offence in January 2017. Both cases emphasise the gravity of committing contempt of Court.

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