An interesting but very specific point arose in this recently published Court of Appeal decision in the case of A Local Authority v HP & Anor  EWCA Civ 143: the court does have the power to endorse a penal notice addressed to a local authority on an order for contact with a child in care pursuant to s34(4) Children Act 1989, and where appropriate may commit for contempt of court if that endorsed order is breached.
There was no actual application to commit in this case, the issue on appeal was whether or not the penal notice should even have been endorsed. Thankfully the endorsement was warning enough and prompted compliance.
It is uncontroversial to say that a penal notice can only properly be attached where the order in question is actually enforceable by committal - it cannot be an empty threat. But the circumstances in which committal will actually follow are likely to be unusual or exceptional indeed. It is unusual enough for a local authority to simply defy the court, it would be more unusual still for it to do so under threat of imprisonment.
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