Duhaime's Law Dictionary


In Facie Contempt Definition:

Contempt of court that occurs in the face of the Court.

Related Terms: Ex Facie Contempt, Direct Contempt, Indirect Contempt, Contempt of Court, Criminal Contempt

In McKeown, Justice Laskin of Canada's Supreme Court wrote:

"Contempt in the face of the Court is, in my view, distinguished from contempt not in its face on the footing that all the circumstances of the alleged contempt are in the personal knowledge of the Court. The presiding judge can then deal summarily with the matter without embarrassment of having to be a witness to issues of fact which may be in dispute because of events occurring outside. "

In R v Cohn, Justice Goodman of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote:

"Contempt offences fall within two broad categories, viz., contempt in the face of the court (contempt in facie) and contempts committed outside the court (contempt ex facie).

"A contempt in the face of the court may be broadly described as any word spoken or act done in, or in the precincts of, the court which obstructs or interferes with the due administration of justice or is calculated so to do. Forms of conduct which have been held to constitute such contempt are: assaults committed in court; insults to the court; interruption of court proceedings; and refusal on the part of a witness to be sworn or, having been sworn, refusal to answer.

"Conduct which amounts to contempt outside the court may be described in general terms as words spoken or otherwise published, or acts done, outside court which are intended or likely to interfere with or obstruct the fair administration of justice. Common examples of such contempts are: publications which are intended or likely to prejudice the fair trial or conduct of criminal or civil proceedings; publications which scandalize or otherwise lower the authority of the court; and acts which interfere with or obstruct persons having duties to discharge in a court of justice."

Miller writes that:

"Traditionally, contempts are classified as either in the face of the court (in facie curiae) or not in the face of the court (ex facie curiae)."

He then proposes that, as a matter of "settled law", in facie contempt is not necessarily limited to in the courtroom, while in session, to the judge's face contempt:

"... illegal picketing outside the courthouse but on courthouse property is in facie (contempt)."

Indeed, these are the precise words of Chief Justice Dickson in BCGEU v British Columbia, at ¶45:

"Although the act of picketing did not take place strictly within the court room itself, the courts of British Columbia found, correctly in my view, that it constituted contempt in the face of the court. The picketing was within the immediate precincts of the court-houses, obvious to all who approached the courts, including the Chief Justice as he entered the Vancouver court-house that day, and it was directed against the immediate activity taking place in the courts....

"[T]he summary power to deal with contempt could be exercised even though the activity in question did not take place immediately within the court room."

But then contrast with these words of Justice Wallace in Kinar v BC:

"[A] news report televised on the evening news cannot be construed as having taken place in the face of the court. I accept the premise that where a contempt occurs in the face of the court the judge is usually fully cognizant of all facts necessary to adjudicate on the guilt or innocence of the alleged contemner. I do not agree, however, with the converse proposition that when a judge is fully cognizant of the alleged acts of contempt, this necessarily characterizes such acts as having occurred in the face of the court. Rather, I find the words in the face of the court have consistently been judicially considered to be equivalent to in the presence of the court or in the view of the court — while it is in session."

The significance of the distinction between ex facie contempt and in facie contempt is summarized by Justice Beetz of Canada's Supreme Court in CBC v Quebec Police Commission:

"[T]he power to punish for contempt committed ex facie curiae have been firmly established for more than two hundred years.... [T]his power is enjoyed exclusively by the superior courts."

Thus, provincial courts and administrative tribunals do not have the power to punish for ex facie contempt, but only for contempt that occurs in their face (in facie).

It can be a challenge to distinguish direct contempt and indirect contempt from ex facie contempt and in facie contempt.

In law, in most cases:

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