Judge to decide – Can non-payment of court-ordered debt lead to contempt lawsuit?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad –

A HIGH Court judge will rule in July on whether civil procedure rules allow for an application for contempt of court charges 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 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 could be targeted by criminals owing to the substantial amount of money he is owed and TT’s rampant crime rate.

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.

At a hearing on Thursday, Justice Frank Seepersad questioned whether the civil procedure rules envisaged a contempt of court suit for failure to pay a debt incurred after a court judgment.

He said there was a myriad of enforcement proceedings that could apply, and contempt usually only applies when a party breaches 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 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 argued.

Seepersad asked for submissions on the issue and said he will give his decision on July 27.

The judge also asked Moore for 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.