A father in a family case who told a district judge to ‘get fucked’ has been found in contempt of court – but spared an immediate prison sentence.
Mr Justice Cobb said David Duggan’s behaviour had been ‘insulting and disrespectful’ to a district judge and undermined the ‘dignity and authority of the court’.
Duggan was given a 14-day prison sentence suspended for 12 months after the court heard of his personal difficulties, his contrition and his acceptance that his conduct had been inappropriate.
The hearing in question was a telephone case management conference overseen by District Judge Keating in the Family Court at Durham. After introductory comments from about the conduct of the hearing, the father replied: ‘Who the fuck do you think you are speaking to me like that?’
Duggan repeatedly spoke over and interrupted the district judge, and when he was placed on mute to allow the judge to get her directions uninterrupted, he responded upon being umuted with further abuse and by saying: ‘Get fuck… I’m done with this me, mate.’
Duggan then told the district judge he was recording the hearing for himself and was going to put it in the public domain. When he was warned this would amount to contempt of court, he said: ‘Mate, I’m not bothered what you say.’
In his subsequent contempt hearing before Mr Justice Cobb, Duggan said his ‘head was gone’ and that he was now ‘disgusted’ by his conduct. He had sent an apology to the district judge in which he pledged not to behave in the same way and expressed his determination to turn his life around.
Cobb J said that while judges have a ‘degree of tolerance’ towards emotional displays of frustration or anger, there was no excuse for insulting a judge or repeatedly disrupting a hearing with outbursts of abuse.
‘The fact that a court hearing takes place on the telephone, or by video-link, makes it no less a court hearing,’ he added. ‘The judge conducting a hearing is no less a judge. The same respect for the process and the dignity of the court is expected from all participants, whether they are participating by telephone, video, or physically sitting in a court room.’
Considering sentence, he took into account a history of mental illness and the distress caused by not seeing his child for some months. The judge also accepted his apology and that his stress and anxiety contributed to his lack of control.