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I read that a civil court judge may order that a defendant, for example, pay damages; or, another example, provide particulars relevant to the pre-trial pleadings.

But what if they don't comply? What are the consequences for ignoring the orders of the court in the context of a civil trial? (I live in British Columbia and I'm trying to understand BC Supreme Court procedure.)

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In the United States (and probably any common law country) a judge may find a person in criminal or civil contempt of court. One is in contempt of court if they refuse to follow the orders of the court. If one thinks the orders are wrong or improper the proper remedy is to ask for a stay of the order or file an emergency appeal and hope for a stay there. If no stay is received comply with the order until the appeal is heard.

If we assume one does not follow the orders of a civil court, then that person will most likely be found in contempt of court. Originally this person will most likely receive a civil contempt charge, which will result in fines every single day the person is not in compliance with the order of the court. The [BC Supreme Court rules at 22-7][1] defines the parameters for failure to comply with court orders. At rule 22-8, it states that a person may be apprehended if they are found in contempt:

(4)A person who is guilty of an act or omission described in Rule 12-5 (25) or 22-7 (5), in addition to being subject to any consequences prescribed by those rules, is guilty of contempt of court and subject to the court's power to punish contempt of court.

(5)If the court is of the opinion that a person may be guilty of contempt of court, it may order, by warrant in Form 115 directed to a sheriff or other officer of the court or to a peace officer, that the person be apprehended and brought before the court.

As an alternative type of sanction for civil contempt, the court can also have the person jailed until they comply with the order. In the United States, there is generally no limit on how long you can be jailed for civil contempt (the record is 14 years), and you have substantially lower due process protections (for instance, you don't have a right to a jury); both of those are because you can free yourself at any time by simply complying with the order.

The court can also impose criminal contempt sanctions. Civil contempt is to get you to obey the order; criminal contempt is to punish you for disobeying. Criminal contempt sanctions are unconditional; it's a crime like other crimes, and a criminal sentence looks like "$50,000 fine" or "30 days in jail" rather than "$1,000 per day until you obey the order" or "jail until you obey the order."

[1]: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/LOC/complete/statreg/--%20C%20--/Court%20Rules%20Act%20[RSBC%201996]%20c.%2080/05_Regulations/17_168_2009%20-%20Supreme%20Court%20Civil%20Rules/168_2009_03.xml#rule22-7 BC Supreme Court rules, rule 22-7

  • See more here: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contempt_of_court – Viktor Jan 30 '16 at 21:38
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    Imprisoning you until you comply is still civil contempt. The civil/criminal distinction isn't fines/imprisonment; it's coercing you to comply vs. punishing you for disobeying. A fine for a fixed amount (as opposed to per day, or compensating the other side for damages) is criminal; imprisonment as long as you refuse is civil, and it only becomes criminal if it's for a fixed time period. – cpast Jan 30 '16 at 22:04
  • "Both of those are because you can free yourself at any time by simply complying with the order." From the court's point of view, that is. In the 14 year case you mentioned, the party in question was ordered to pay some money. His claim was that he didn't have the money and therefore it was not possible for him to comply. Obviously the court did not believe him. – Nate Eldredge Jan 31 '16 at 1:51
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    Viktor, I added a suggested edit to refer to the specific BC Supreme Court rules on non compliance. bclaws.ca/civix/document/LOC/complete/statreg/--%20C%20--/… – Mavaddat Javid Jan 31 '16 at 18:04
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Failing to comply with a court order is contempt; other answers have dealt with this.

If the order creates a debt then the beneficiary of that order can take various methods to have the debt satisfied including getting orders to:

  • seize and sell physical property
  • obtain a lien over real property
  • garnishee bank accounts
  • garnishee wages or other income
  • wind up a company
  • have an individual declared bankrupt
  • Thank you for the information. I realise (or understand) that I need to search the BC Supreme Court rules for the keyword "contempt" to see how the BC superior court handles intransigent disobedience to its orders. – Mavaddat Javid Jan 31 '16 at 3:06
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In addition to the other two answers (which are certainly correct), you should probably check the civil code for possible sanctions specific to this failure. For example, if a party fails to comply with an order to give particulars of a pleading, it is common that the opponent can apply to have that pleading struck out (and presumably judgment entered against the defaulter).

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