Death of a party initiating Civil Contempt proceedings.

Death of a party initiating Civil Contempt proceedings 

In a recent judgment issued by the District Court of Nicosia in the context of an existing court action before a District Court President, the Court was faced with the question whether the death of the Plaintiff (a foreign national) who had, prior to his death, initiated civil contempt proceedings against one of the Defendants (another foreign national) for breach of a worldwide freezing order and an ancillary disclosure order, prevented the continuation of the proceedings.

The case concerned an application by the joint administrators of the estate of the deceased plaintiff, who had previously been appointed by the District Court of Nicosia (Probate Jurisdiction) and been granted letters of administration of the estate of the deceased for limited purposes (Limited Grant) and for the exclusive and or special purpose of representing the estate of the said deceased in a number of judicial proceedings in Cyprus (including the said existing court action), for a number of orders including orders to constitute themselves as plaintiffs in the said court action and to continue the proceedings including the civil contempt proceedings.

The application was opposed by the foreign defendant against whom the deceased had filed the contempt proceedings and which were pending at the time of his death. It was argued by advocates for the foreign defendant in this respect, that the joint administrators could not continue the civil contempt proceedings against him because they did not suffer any damage.

It has widely been recognized by the Cypriot courts and other common law jurisdictions that civil contempt proceedings are quasi criminal in nature. Notably there is Cypriot case law, albeit on purely criminal cases, holding that that the death of a party initiating a private criminal case does not survive his death and that the right to institute private criminal proceedings is limited to the parties who have suffered damage.

However, the question whether the death of the party initiating contempt proceedings in the context of a civil court action prevented the continuation of the proceedings, had never previously been decided by the Cypriot courts.

Adopting case law from Singapore and India submitted by the advocates for the joint administrators the Court dismissed the objections of the foreign defendant.

As it was stated by the High Court of Singapore in Abdul Aziz bin Mohamed Yatim v Rubiah bte Rahmat [2006] SGHC 231:

“Finally, reliance was placed on [the Indian case] Sher Singh v R P Kapur [1968] AIR Punj 217, where it was held that the death of the party initiating contempt proceedings did not prevent the matter proceeding.  The death of the complainant presents a fundamentally different situation than does the death of the alleged contemnor.  The decision in Sher Singh v R P Kapur rests on the principle that “once the proceedings get going, it becomes a matter between the contemnor on the one hand and the court of which the contempt is stated to have been committed, on the other”: see at 223.  That is correct because it is the court that acts to uphold its order.  But this only highlights the difficulty with the respondent’s position in the present case.  The death of the person against whom the proceedings are brought presents a considerable obstacle since she is very much integral to the process.” (emphasis added).

In Sher Singh v R P Kapur [1968] AIR Punj 217 it was held:

 “This power quite clearly does not depend on the personal desire of a private party whether or not to pursue the proceedings for contempt even though initiated by itProceedings for contempt are undisputably of quasi criminal natureThe death of the party initiating contempt proceedings would, therefore, seem to us to be of the least import. Once the proceedings get going, it quite clearly becomes a matter between contemner on the one hand, and, the Court, of which the contempt is stated to have been committed, on the other. Contempt of Court, if I may so put it is a mysterious and indefinable offence, being as easy to commit as it is liable to speedy and deserved punishment. Since the foundation of our present judicial system to punish for contempt is really regarded as ‘of its own class’ (sui generis), in order to keep the Courts of justice free, impartial and objective. Courts by their very creation, are vested with the inherent power, inter alia, to preserve themselves from the approach of pollution however subtly designed. With the death of the person approaching this Court with the allegation of someone having committed contempt of Court, therefore the proceedings cannot he held to cease to be competent.” (emphasis added)

Citing, Alridge, Eady & Smith on Contempt, 4th ed., the Court found that the above principles and findings are fully harmonized with the modern practice in England.

 Given the foregoing, the Court concluded that public policy requires the Court to be substantially interested in the enforcement of its orders, otherwise enforcement of the law degenerates and consequently the public’s trust in the administration of justice and surely in the institution of the Court is eliminatedTherefore,  the Court held that the death of a complainant in a contempt application pending in the context of a civil court action, as was the case in question, does not have fatal consequences in its continuation, by contrast, the proceedings survive and can be continued by the representatives of the complainant, for example by the administrators of his estate or any other person appointed by the Court.  

Constantinos Adamides (Partner), Alexandros Gavrielides (Partner) and Chara Pieri (Associate) acted for the joint administrators.