In the recent decision of Nichols v Chelsea Football Club the English Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against sentence of 21 weeks’ imprisonment for contempt of court. The appellant, Mr Nichols, was found to be in breach of an order prohibiting him from dealing in Chelsea Football Club tickets. Mr Nichols was filmed selling a ticket to an agent of the club near the stadium on match day. Mr Nichols was already subject to a suspended sentence for contempt of court for a similar breach of a High Court order. The decision provides useful guidance on the appropriate tariffs for penalties for contempt of court, in particular the appropriate discount to be given for an admission of a breach.
The appellant submitted that (1) the Judge had failed to take into account the fact that Mr Nichols said he breached the order because of the activities of the club’s agents which he submitted was akin to entrapment, (2) the discount of 17 per cent given for the admission was inadequate.
The Court dismissed the appeal on both grounds and noted:
- The concept of entrapment had no part to play here. The appellant was already standing outside the stadium on match day. The sale was made entirely without assistance.
- The starting point of six months’ imprisonment for a repeat contempt was entirely appropriate, particularly when the breach occurred whilst he was subject to a suspended sentence. Mr Nichols was lucky it was not higher.
- The Judge gave adequate consideration to Mr Nichols’ admission and to some extent the impact on his family. The discount of 17 per cent was appropriate. The maximum reduction of one-third will generally only be appropriate where conduct constituting contempt has been admitted as soon as the proceedings are commenced. Thereafter, any reduction will be on a sliding scale down to about 10 per cent where an admission is made at trial.
- Unless the overall sentence is manifestly excessive, it is not the role of the court on appeal to engage in fine-tuning. The court will look at the matter in the round and ask whether the sentence is appropriate for this contempt by this contemnor.
The Court of Appeal noted it is generally reluctant to interfere with sentencing decisions of this kind. The appellant had shown sustained and undeterred lack of respect for orders of the court.