New Judgment: R v O’Brien  UKSC 23
02 Wednesday Apr 2014
On appeal from:  EWCA Crim 67
The appellant was under investigation for involvement in a large-scale ‘boiler-room’ fraud. A restraint order was made against him, which he disobeyed by fleeing to the United States. He was held in contempt for this and a warrant was made for his arrest.
His extradition was sought to face charges relating to the alleged fraud, and the bench warrant for contempt was set aside due to concerns it could complicate the extradition. Following the appellant’s remand in custody in the UK the SFO reapplied for his committal for contempt. The appellant challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the application on the grounds that the contempt fell constituted an ‘extradition offence’ and so fell within the ‘specialty rule’ under the Extradition Act 2003, and, in the alternative, the contempt constituted a criminal contempt and so was brought under the specialty rule.
The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. The sections the appellant relied on (s 148 and 151A) cannot be read in isolation, and reading the Act as a whole it is clear that conduct constituting an extradition offence must be a criminal offence under the law of the requesting state.
There is a material distinction between civil and criminal contempt; the latter involves a serious interference with the administration of justice, whereas the former is an inherent power used by a senior court in order to ensure that its orders are observed. In this case the appellant’s disobedience of the order constitutes civil contempt, which does not constitute an extradition offence.