Obedience to court orders is not voluntary and judges possess a battery of powers to enforce compliance. In one case, a divorcee who barricaded himself into his former matrimonial home in order to prevent its enforced sale was given ten days to move out – or go to prison.
The sale of the £500,000 farmhouse had been ordered so that the proceeds could be divided between husband and wife as part of their £6 million divorce. However, over a prolonged period, the husband had refused to leave. He was said to have surrounded the property with barbed wire and to have stated that he would only move out in a body bag.
A family judge ultimately imposed a six-month suspended prison sentence after finding the husband in contempt of court. He was warned that the sentence would be activated if he did not move out by a particular date. In challenging that decision before the Court of Appeal, his lawyers pointed to his mental health difficulties and argued that he had not knowingly or wilfully breached the order. The sentence imposed was also said to be disproportionate.
In rejecting his challenge, however, the Court acknowledged his health problems and protestations, but these did not alter the fact that he had deliberately defied the order for a considerable period. He was given ten days to vacate the property or face arrest and immediate imprisonment.