In this recent Federal Court decision, an application to dismiss of a contempt of court charge was unsuccessful given the public interest in upholding the authority of the court.
From 2016-2019, during the voluntary administration of Queensland Nickel Limited, special purpose liquidators (SPLs) were engaged in proceedings against directors and officers of the company, including director Clive Mensink. When Mr Mensink failed to appear in court after being summoned, the SPLs applied for an order for contempt of court. Fortunately for Mr Mensink, the application was abandoned by the SPLs upon settlement of the matter. However, and rather unfortunately for Mr Mensink, the Court ordered that the Registrar take over the prosecution of the contempt charge.
Mr Mensink sought to have the charge thrown out based upon the SPLs discharging the claims against him. He argued that the charge, which was filed for the purpose of advancing the SPLs’ case, no longer benefitted their interests. However, the Federal Court held that there is still an element of public interest in requiring compliance with court orders. Specifically, pursuit of Mr Mensink’s failure to appear in court serves the public interest in the administration of justice by vindicating the authority of the Court.
Ultimately, it is up to the Court to set it aside contempt applications. Practitioners should be cautious in making such applications to serve the interests of their clients, as the public interest lies in asserting the Court’s authority.
If you have any questions about this judgement or require advice in relation to contempt of court, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here, or call us on (08) 6188 3340.