Kieran Pezzack discusses Contempt of Court in reference to a medical negligence case

‘Contempt of court’ happens when someone risks unfairly influencing a court case. It may stop somebody from getting a fair trial and can affect a trial’s outcome. It is governed by the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

This blog will be looking at how contempt of court was heard in the medical negligence case of North Bristol NHS Trust v White [2022] EWHC 1313 (QB).  The background to this case is that Miss White and North Bristol NHS Trust (the “Trust”) reached a settlement agreement over Miss White’s Cauda Equina Syndrome claim.  This agreement saw the Trust agree to pay 50% of Miss White’s claim. The settlement covered causation but not the value of loss and damages.

Miss White valued her claim at £4.1 million plus a sum for general damages for pain and suffering. This lead to the Trust hiring surveillance agents to video Miss White. The video showed that Miss White was not immobile as she claimed to the experts (as explained below). As such, the Trust claimed Miss White was fundamentally dishonest and that the claim should be valued at £34,000 plus general damages for pain and suffering. Furthermore, the Trust applied for Miss White’s claim to be struck out. His Honour Judge Gore QC struck out the claim for failure to comply with Court directions and ordered Miss White to repay the interim payments she received, totalling £45,000.

The Trust then bought contempt proceedings.  This case was heard in the High Court before Mr Justice Ritchie in May 2022. Before the hearing, Miss White confirmed that she had made the following statements:

  1. She told her pain management expert that “she was unable to walk for 20 steps before having to stop; if she did not use a crutch she was only able to hobble”.
  2. She told her care expert that “she could not walk for 10 metres before stopping; she could climb slowly if she stopped every three steps; she could drive for 20 minutes; she used a crutch outdoors; she was unable to move from kneeling to standing; she required supervision in the shower and assistance with her shoes and socks.”
  3. She told her occupational therapist expert that “when she went out she used one crutch; she had extreme difficulty with kneeling, squatting or working at low levels; she found it extremely difficult to get down on to the floor to play with her son.”
  4. She told her neurosurgical expert that “outside she walked with an elbow crutch; she could walk for 10-20 steps before needing to stop and rest; she could not get in and out of the bath.”

Miss White stood by these statements even after being showed the video evidence. Mr Justice Ritchie found that Miss White had been dishonest and intentionally made false statements to  experts that were reporting her condition to the court. He further found that this had caused the Trust to be forced to obtaining expert reports, incur legal fees, carrying out surveillance and bring contempt proceedings. Additionally, this led to the court’s time and resources being use. In light of the above, Mr Justice Ritchie held that Miss White had acted in contempt. Before sentencing Miss White, Mr Justice Ritchie highlighted the following mitigating factors:

  1. Miss White had a 9 year old son;
  2. She lived with her mother who provided some care to her son;
  3. Miss White had already suffered as a result of her dishonesty. She lost the residual value of her clinical negligence claim which could have been as high as £150,000. She recovered £45,000 of interim payments but was ordered to repay this sum;
  4. Miss White suffered a horrible physical challenge as a result of her degenerate spinal condition which first became symptomatic when she was in her late teens;
  5. Miss White had clearly suffered a major depressive disorder (as evidenced by a psychiatric report) which had been recurrent and fluctuating. Her condition had a disruptive effect on her decision-making process;
  6. Miss White and her son have rights under the Human Rights Act to a family life, and Miss White has rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a result of her physical disabilities, and
  7. The time that had occurred between the end of Miss White’s clinical negligence claim, the start of the contempt proceedings and the permission hearing. The proceedings had been hanging over her for much longer than anyone would wish in an ideal world. However, the delays were contributed to my Miss White’s failure to make full and frank admissions of her contempt until the last minute.

A conviction for contempt of court can lead to a prison sentence for up to 2 years and/or a fine. Mr Justice Ritchie, bearing in mind the mitigating factors,  sentenced Miss White to 6 months in prison.


For further information on this topic or on any other legal area, please contact John Szepietowski or Kay Stewart at Audley Chaucer Solicitors on 01372 303444 or email or visit our Linkedin page at


Kieran Pezzack


This information was correct as of November 2022

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