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What is Contempt of Court?

What is Contempt of Court?

Being held in contempt of court doesn't simply mean saying something offensive in Court. Read about what it is in this article.

14th August 2019
Being held in contempt of court is when someone acts in a way which shows disrespect towards the Court. Contempt used to be based on an intent to interfere with, or undermine the “authority, performance, or dignity” of the Courts. In 2016, the NSW government introduced legislation which changed these rules. Disrespecting the court generally is now also an offence. In this article, we’ll discuss what contempt of court is.

When can someone be held in contempt of court?

There’s a number of different ways in which someone can be held in contempt of court. Some types of these include:

Disobedience of court orders

Court orders are intended to be abided by. A person or party to proceedings can be held in contempt if they do not comply with Court orders. If someone is held in contempt in civil trials, the offended party can seek remedies (such as through costs) at the end of proceedings. If this happens in criminal trials, the Court will impose the relevant punishment.

Contempt by publication and the sub judice rule

This occurs when someone involved in proceedings reveals confidential information before it has been resolved at trial. 

Scandalising the court

Scandalising refers to conduct ‘which attempts to bring disrepute to, or lower the authority of the court. This often involves trials which cover controversial issues. Although the judiciary are and should be open to criticism, this rule steps in to protect the public order.

Disrespecting the court

Disrespecting the Court has more to do with following correct procedure. For example, refusing to bow as the Judge enters the courtroom or disrupting proceedings. 

The Purpose of the Offence

The purpose of “contempt of court” is to protect the course of justice, the public interest, and respect the individuals who interpret and apply the law. Therefore, the main purpose is to protect the public and the legal system by preserving the authority and power of the court and the people who administer the law and justice. It’s to make sure that people don’t see themselves as above the law and to set an expectation of respect.

The Penalties

The crime of “contempt of court” can result in imprisonment for 28 days or a $2,200 fine. However, the crime of disrespecting the court carries a 14-day prison term or a $1,100 fine.

What Do I Do if I Have Been Charged with This?

If you are charged with contempt of court or need further clarification of what it is always a good idea to consult a criminal lawyer. Ultimately, a criminal lawyer will be able to explain exactly what it is and assist with possible court proceedings.

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Janette Nalbandian

Janette is a Legal Tech Intern at Lawpath as part of the Content Team. She is in her third year of a Bachelor of Laws with the degree of Bachelor of Social Sciences (Major in Criminology) at Macquarie University. She is interested in Migration Law and Access to Justice.