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Clients committed to jail for contempt over unpaid solicitors’ bills

Oman: Couple have sought to disrupt, frustrate and protract proceedings

Two clients who owe their solicitors £2.3m in outstanding fees, costs and interest have been committed to prison having been found guilty of 14 charges of contempt of court.

Mr Justice Morris’s decision [1] followed his ruling in September [2] that the pair had breached a court order, made false statements in oral evidence and made false statements verified by statement of truth.

Hassan Khan & Co and the Khan Partnership, two inter-related firms of solicitors, sued Omani husband and wife Thamer Al-Shanfari and Iman Said Al-Rawas for unpaid fees after acting for them between 2006 and 2009 in substantial litigation.

In that case, judges made adverse findings about Mr Al-Shanfari’s conduct, including serious and deliberate material non-disclosure and giving misleading evidence.

In 2018, after suing over unpaid bills, the law firms received judgment in default, following which Mr Al-Shanfari reportedly said he was not afraid of the judgment as it would have to be enforced in Oman and the solicitors would “see what happens” if they tried this.

Twelve of the contempt findings related to Mr Al-Shanfari and two to Mrs Al-Rawas. Morris J’s judgment and order were served on them by being left at their home address in Oman by a local lawyer, who also tried to effect personal service at two other addresses.

Neither client has participated in the contempt proceedings, although the judge said Mr Al-Shanfari was “at the same time seeking to be involved, by harrying from the sidelines, through lawyers who decline to come on the record”.

Oliver Mishcon, a barrister whom the couple had previously instructed on a direct access basis, indicated to the court in October that they were set to engage a law firm to provide him with instructions, and that substantive submissions would “almost certainly” be made to the court.

But in the event, that did not happen and, having had “almost two months to find the further legal representation to make the submissions to which Mr Mishcon referred in his letter to the court”, Morris J found it was appropriate to proceed to determine sentence in their absence.

“These are serious, persistent and deliberate breaches of court orders and false statements, on the part of both Mr Al-Shanfari and Mrs Al-Rawas,” he said.

“Their objective throughout, and over a considerable number of years, has been to disrupt, frustrate and protract proceedings and to avoid compliance with court orders and ultimately to evade payment of the judgment sums properly due to the claimants pursuant to judgments of this court, entered more than three and a half years ago.”

In the circumstances, the judge imposed the maximum sentence of 24 months’ imprisonment on Mr Al-Shanfari, and 15 months on Mrs Al-Rawas. Her failures had “a more limited ambit” but she still “played an important part in the defiance of, and non-compliance with, the court orders and enforcement process”.