• 107328  Infos

Contempt of court

    '''Contempt of court''' is the failure to obey a lawful order of a court disrespect for the judge disruption of the proceedings through poor behavior or publication of material deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or prison|jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court Typically judges in common law systems have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems
    Often stated simply as "in contempt"

    England and Wales

    In English law (a common law jurisdiction) the law on contempt is party set out in case law and partly specified in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 Contempt may be a criminal or civil offense
    All courts are protected by the law on contempt but only courts of record have a power at common law to punish for contempt

    Criminal contempt of court

    The Crown Court is a court of record under Supreme Court Act 1981 and accordingly has power to punish for contempt of its own motion The Divisional Court has stated that this power applies in three circumstances:
    1. Contempt "in the face of the court" (not to be taken literally - the judge does not need to see it: provided it took place within the court precincts or relates to a case currently before that court);
    2. Disobedience of a court order; and
    3. Breaches of undertakings to the court

    Where it is necessary to act quickly the judge (even the trial judge) may act to sentence for contempt
    Where it is not necessary to be so urgent or where indirect contempt has taken place the Attorney General can intervene and the Crown Prosecution Service will instute criminal proceedings on his behalf before the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of of England and Wales] (Criminal Division)
    Magistrates Courts are not courts of record but nonetheless have powers granted under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 They may detain any person who insults the court until the end of the session and imprison them for up to a month and fine them up to £1500
    It is contempt of court to bring a tape recorder or camera of any sort into an English court without the consent of the court: this is in stark contrast to the USA where the filming of trials is commonplace

    Strict liability contempt

    Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 it is criminal contempt of court to publish anything which creates a real risk that the course of justice in proceedings may be seriously impared It only applies where proceedings are active and the Attorney-General has issued guidance as to when be believes this to be the case and there is also statutory guidance The clause prevents the newspapers and media from publishing material that is too extreme or sensationalist about a criminal case until the trial is over and the jury has given its verdict
    Section 2 of the Act limits the common law presumption that conduct may be treated as contempt regardless of intention: now only cases where serious prejudice may be caused are affected

    Civil contempt

    In civil proceedings there are two main ways in which contempt is committed:
    1. Failure to attend at court despite a subpoena requiring attendance In respect of the High Court historicially a writ of Latitat would have been issued but now a Bench Warrant issued authorising The Tipstaff to arrange for the arrest of the individual and imprisonment until the date and time the court appoints to next sit In practice a grovelling letter of apology to the court is sufficient to ward off this possibility and in any event the warrant is generally 'backed for bail' ie bail will be granted once the arrest has been made and a location where the person can be found in future established
    2. Failure to comply with a court order A copy of the order with a "penal notice" ie notice informing the recipient that if they do not comply they are subject to imprisonment is served on the person concerned If, after that they breach the order proceedings can be started and in theory the person involved can be sent to prison In practice this never happens as the cost on the claiming of bringing these proceedings is immense and in practice imprisonment is never ordered as an apology or fine are usually considered appropriate

    United States

    Under American jurisprudence acts of contempt are divided into two types
    "Direct" contempt is that which occurs in the presence of the presiding judge (in facia curia) and may be dealt with summarily: the judge notifies the offending party that he or she has acted in a manner which disrupts the tribunal and prejudices the administration of justice and after giving the person the opportunity to respond may impose the sanction immediately
    "Indirect" contempt occurs outside the immediate presence of the court and consists of disobedience of a court's prior order Generally a party will be accused of indirect contempt by the party for whose benefit the order was entered A person cited for indirect contempt is entitled to notice of the charge and an opportunity for hearing of the evidence of contempt and to present evidence in rebuttal
    Sanctions for contempt may be criminal or civil If a person is to be punished criminally then the contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt but once the charge is proven then punishment (such as a fine or, in more serious cases inmprisonment) is imposed unconditionally The civil sanction for contempt (which is typically incarceration in the custody of the sheriff or similar court officer) is limited in its imposition for so long as the disobedience to the court's order continues: once the party complies with the court's order the sanction is lifted The burden of proof for civil contempt however is a preponderance of the evidence

    See also

    • Contempt of Congress - in the United States the same crime but against the US Congress
    • Contempt of Parliament - a similar concept to Contempt of Congress but a power of Parliament
    • Perjury - lying to the court is a separate criminal offence in most jurisdictions but is analogous to contempt in many ways
    • Perverting the course of justice - A criminal offense in English law where a person seeks to subvert court proceedings