Decisions and Consequences (Part 1): Non-Compliance with Court Order is a Serious Matter

“P is not above the law, and P is not entitled to ignore an order of this Court. No person is. When a Master of this Court orders P to pay D, P must pay D. P is hereby reminded that non-compliance with an order of this Court is, or can be, a very serious matter.”

Signature Diamond LLC v Phillips Fine Watches Limited [2019] HKCFI 2903

“Decisions and consequences… Ruled by consequences”

- John Wick

 

Introduction

The decision in Signature Diamond LLC was mainly about the Plaintiff’s application for an order lifting the stay of proceedings concerning some timepieces. The order of staying the proceedings was made in light of the parallel proceedings in Switzerland, and the Plaintiff’s application was dismissed because no genuine material changes in circumstances were shown.

As noted in its decision, the proposition given in the Affirmation that high value watches can ‘change’ overtime (without cogent evidence in support), is a non-starter:

“I have no doubt the Watches should be carefully kept, but this was known to P … and was not a “material change in circumstances”. It has not been suggested to this Court that the Watches became something else...”

The significance of this decision however lies in the final remarks where the court noted that the Plaintiff was ordered to pay the Defendant forthwith a certain amount but after over 1 ½ years, the Plaintiff was still refusing to pay, and the Court reminded that a party can be penalised for contempt depending on the exact nature of the order and the circumstances of its non-compliance.

Contempt of Court

In Hong Kong, the court has inherent jurisdiction in contempt but we do not have codified law like the Contempt Court Act 1981 in the United Kingdom. The law of contempt can be found in common law and the committal proceedings can be brought under Order 52 of the Rules of High Court (Cap. 4A), but the court has its power to act of its own motion to punish a person of contempt.

Committal proceedings are not uncommon and as recent as in June 2020, committal proceedings were brought by the Secretary for Justice for a breach of a doxxing injunction in Secretary for Justice v Chan Oi Yau Riyo [2020] HKCFI 1194.

The law of contempt is to prevent interference with the due administration of justice (La Dolce Vita Fine Dining Co Ltd v Zhang Lan [2019] 2 HKLRD 341), and as said in RACP Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd v Li Xiaobo [2007] 2 HKLRD 331:

“The first principle is that court orders are made to be obeyed. They are not guidelines, to be ignored or paid lip service to at the behest of the parties affected. They are the building blocks by which the administration of justice is made workable.”

The Current Social Circumstances

Given the current social circumstances and sentiment, it is inevitable that courts have to try controversial cases towards which different sectors of the society may hold different opinions.

Like in Chan Oi Yau Riyo, the contempt arose when the Defendant posted on her Facebook account the personal data of a police constable and that of his family in breach of a doxxing injunction order.

The doxxing injunction order, which was widely reported through the media, prohibited the defendants (being named as persons unlawfully and wilfully conducting themselves in any of the prohibited acts) from, inter alia, publishing or disclosing the personal data of police officers and of their family with the intent to or that would likely to intimidate, molest, harass, threaten, pester or interfere with them.

However, the police constable later discovered that his and his family’s personal data were posted on a Telegram Channel called “老豆搵仔”, and the Defendant was found to have reposted on her Facebook page the same content when she was well aware of the terms of the doxxing injunction order.

The Court held that it is fundamental to the rule of law that court orders are to be obeyed and the requirement to obey court orders does not vary depending on one's personal or political views, or state of emotion.

Taking all the circumstances into account, the Defendant was sentenced to 28 days' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

Conclusion

Whilst we may hold different views, we are not above the law and court orders are there to be followed in order to maintain the integrity of the system. One should always:

  1. pay heed to the orders made by the court and ensure compliance; and
  2. avoid ‘advising’ a client to delay performance of Court order, otherwise, a litany of consequences may follow.

– Joshua Chu, Solicitor, ONC Lawyers
– Francesca Lee, Trainee Solicitor, ONC Lawyers

Jurisdictions: 

Solicitor, ONC Lawyers

Joshua Chu is a Litigation Solicitor qualified to practice in Hong Kong. Before becoming a lawyer, Joshua worked in the healthcare industry serving as the IT department head at a private hospital as well as overseeing their procurement operations.

Since embarking upon his legal career, his past legal experience includes representing the successful party in one of Hong Kong’s first cryptocurrency litigation cases as well as appearing before the Review Body on Bid Challenges under the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement concerning a health care industry related tender.

Today, Joshua’s practice is mainly focused in the field of dispute resolution and technology law.

Aside from his legal practice, Joshua is currently also a Senior Consultant with a regulatory consulting firm which had been founded by ex-SFC Regulators as well as being a management consultant for the Korean Blockchain Centre.

Trainee Solicitor, ONC Lawyers