Do the rules matter?

November 15th 2022

The recent case of McCarren v Ireland [2022] EWFC 113 examines contempt of court proceedings.

Mr McCarren was the father in Children Act 1989 (CA89) proceedings with a lengthy and tangled history; estimates were that he had made 28 applications of various types. He had made complaints amongst others to the Charities Commission, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Information Commissioner, Serious Fraud Office and a number of MPs. He had made various applications against Mr McCarren’s former wife (mother), her family, her GP, the expert and Mr Ireland who was mother’s solicitor.

It is an understatement to say that Mr McCarren was unhappy with the outcome of the Children Act proceedings, but he had been blocked from making further applications without leave under CA89 section 91(14). He brought instead an application against Mr Ireland alleging that he had committed contempt of court by disclosing documents.

MacDonald J in striking out Mr McCarren’s application identified a number of issues:

The application was insufficiently clear. A theme the judge returned to was that a contempt of court application, where the Applicant is looking to have the other party committed to prison, is a very serious one, described as quasi criminal. Mr Ireland was therefore entitled to know exactly what the case against him was.

The application failed to comply with the rules. Mr McCarren filed statements, repeatedly and without permission. He should have filed a proper affidavit. Taking into account the type of application, these failures were fatal and the application was struck out.

Had Mr McCarren lost on some kind of technicality? The answer to this was addressed by the third strand of the decision. Contempt proceedings can be brought “to secure compliance with a court order or to bring to the attention of the court a serious, as opposed to technical, contempt of court”. MacDonald J had no doubt; this application was a “collateral attack on the decision in the family proceedings”. It was an abuse of process and should be struck out.

The judge made an extended civil restraint order (ECRO) against Mr McCarren for 2 years.

Do the rules matter? Yes, they do.