Firms come to blows over jail threat

A LAW firm is seething over an application to have one of its legal staff locked up in jail for contempt of court.

The motion to commit Paul Callan, of Barry Phillips & Co, along with the defendant he is representing in a High Court action, was launched by Clintons.

Clintons alleged Callan and client Michael Dougan had committed contempt by passing documents to liquidators contrary to a High Court Master's order stipulating they should be “retained and preserved”.

But Mrs Justice Steel dismissed the application which she said amounted to the exertion of “improper pressure” on Callan and Dougan. She issued an indemnity cost order against the plaintiffs.

Callan, a managing clerk, says he is “outraged” by the motion which his boss, Barry Phillips, describes as “intimidatory” and “disgraceful”.

But Clintons lawyer Tim Bienias defended the unusual application as legitimate in the light of a breach of an order. He said his clients were considering an appeal.

The High Court heard on 24 February how liquidators in January had requested the documents.

Callan contacted Clintons for consent to hand them over, which he did on receiving no reply, on the basis the liquidators were bound by the terms of the Master's order.

Dismissing the motion, Judge Steel said: “I am not satisfied it is an abuse of process, but it does seem that even if it is the only remedy available in such circumstances as this, it is an improper pressure to threaten committal in the particular circumstances of this case.”

She said committal was the ultimate sanction “never to be lightly resorted to” and could only apply if there was defiance of a court order. “There was not a deliberate defiance of the order.”