Court to decide: Can non-paying debtors be sued for contempt?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad. –

A HIGH Court judge will rule in July on whether the civil procedure rules allow for an application for contempt of court over the non-payment of a judgment debt.

The judge was asked to consider the issue in a land matter in which a real estate company and an attorney failed to abide by an agreement to honour a $3.5 million debt.

The money was owed for the sale of lots of land in 2014.

In 2020, a High Court judge granted judgment to the estate of the landowner, saying there was proof the real estate company had received money from the sale.

The matter was filed by attorneys for an 85-year-old man who is the executor of his dead son-in-law’s estate.

The 85-year-old’s family asked for their father’s name to remain confidential out of fear he would be targeted because of the substantial amount of money he is owed.

The contempt application was made against DBM Real Estate Services, DBM Holdings, and attorney Ronald Boynes.

Although an agreement was reached on payment, the real estate company and the attorney defaulted, prompting the contempt-of-court application, the application contends.

At Thursday’s hearing, Justice Frank Seepersad questioned whether the CPR contemplated contempt of court for failure to pay a judgment debt.

He said there was a myriad of enforcement proceedings that could apply, and contempt usually only applied when a party breached an order of the court to do something or prohibit something.

In response to the application, attorney Christlyn Moore, who represents the companies and Boynes, agreed.

“I felt that there was a range of execution options that were available,” she said, adding that even if contempt of court applied in this case, the procedure to apply for it was not followed.

“Even the most basic hurdle for contempt has not been crossed,” Moore said.

Seepersad asked for submissions on the issue and said he will give his decision on July 27. He also asked Moore her clients’ position on honouring the debt, as “orders of the court ought not to be dismissed or disregarded.

“The rule of law is dependent on parties abiding by orders of the court,” he added.

Moore said she had spoken to her clients and filed a payment plan proposal.

Attorney Ancil Moses, who represents the executor, said he was yet to receive it, but would consider the proposal. He also said he believed the issue of contempt proceedings in such cases needed clarification.

The judge said, “If you are correct, Mr Moses, we would need more jail cells,” adding that because of the country’s current economic climate, many people may not prioritise the payment of judgment debts.