Judges in the Court of Appeal have quashed a paralegal’s conviction for contempt after finding significant procedural mistakes in how the case was handled.
Nasrullah Mursalin, who worked for Hounslow, London firm Gull Law, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for six months, after a finding that he breached family court rules by supplying documents without permission.
The conviction was dismissed on appeal, with Lord Justice Baker finding that Mursalin did not even realise what he was being accused of, and that the sentencing judge showed scant regard for his culpability for what allegedly occurred. Sitting alongside him, Lord Justice Coulson observed that no part of the committal proceedings had been fair or transparent, ruling that the resulting order was ‘manifestly unjust’.
Mursalin, a member of Lincoln’s Inn who hoped to train and practise as a barrister, was with the immigration and family law specialist firm Gull Law when he assisted in preparing a case in the immigration and asylum tribunal.
In the course of his work, he prepared and filed a bundle of documents to the tribunal and it was said these documents included papers from family proceedings involving the client’s children.
His Honour Judge Moradifur, sitting in the family court in Reading, said that Mursalin had breached family procedure rules – a breach so serious that it could only attract a custodial sentence. He noted that during the course of proceedings the paralegal was given the opportunity of an adjournment to seek independent legal advice and representation, an opportunity which he declined.
But ruling in the appeal, Baker LJ found procedural errors in the process for committing Mursalin. It was unclear whether or not the hearing was conducted in open court, with nothing on the transcript to say whether this was the case and Mursalin reporting that nobody in court was robed.
Baker LJ said Mursalin was given no proper notice he was being accused of contempt or the specific allegations against him. Instead, direction was made requiring his firm to file a statement explaining what happenedl Mursalin was directed to draft and sign the statement, and a hearing was arranged which he attended. The Court of Appeal said it was not sufficient for the judge to proceed simply because Mursalin agreed he could do so.
The judge was never shown the specific documents from the family proceedings to gauge the seriousness of the alleged breach, and there was little sign he considered Mursalin’s culpability.
The appeal was allowed and the order expunged from the record to allow Mursalin to pursue a legal career.