Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Contempt of Court Definition:

Conduct that is disobedient, obstructive or contemptuous to the Court.

Related Terms: Criminal Contempt, Indirect Contempt, Direct Contempt, In Facie Contempt, Ex Facie Contempt, Scandalizing the Court, Purge, Contemnor

See, also, Contempt of Court: the Contemnor's Guide to the Legal Universe.

A act of defiance of court authority or dignity.

Conduct that is disobedient, obstructive or contemptuous to the Court.

Alleged contempt has to be weighed against the words of Justice Atkin in Ambard:

"Justice is not a cloistered virtue, She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even if outspoken, comments of ordinary men."

In Helmore, Justive Bowen wrote:

"The object of discipline enforced by the court in case of contempt is not to vindicate the dignity of the Court or the person of the Judge, but to prevent undue interference with the administration of justice."

Of contempt of court, Lord Denning wrote this in Morris v Crown Office:

"Of all the places where law and order must be maintained, it is here in these courts. The courts of justice must not be deflected or interfered with. Those who strike at it, strike at the very foundations of our society.

"To maintain law and order, the judges have, and must have, power at once to deal with those who offend against it.

"It is a great power - a power instantly to imprison a person without a trial - but it is a necessary power."

In Austman and Oddson v Bjarnason, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal adopted these words:

"A contempt is a disobedience to the Court, an opposing or despising the authority, justice, or dignity thereof.

"It commonly consists in a party's doing otherwise than he is enjoined to do, or not doing what he is commanded or required by the process, order or decree of the Court.

"Blackstone defines it ... as: '... a disobedience to the rules, orders or process of a Court....'

"These brief definitions are scarcely sufficient to embrace all kinds of contempt. ....

"There were three kinds of contempt: (1) Scandalizing the Court itself; (2) Abusing parties who are concerned in causes in the Court; (3) Prejudicing mankind against persons before the cause is heard....

"There cannot be anything of greater consequence than to keep the streams of justice clear and pure, that parties may proceed in safety both to themselves and their characters.

"Contempt has been classified by some authorities as: (1) Direct -- which is aimed expressly against the dignity or authority of the Court itself in the person of its Judges or officers, and in such a manner as to amount to actual or constructive insult or resistance; (2) Indirect -- by disregarding injunctions, orders, or processes of the Court, or by interfering with receivers and other persons entitled to the protection or acting under the authority of the Court....

"(C)ontempt is divided into two classes: (1) Criminal -- consisting of words or acts obstructing or tending to obstruct the administration of justice; (2) Contempt in procedure -- consisting in disobedience to the judgments, orders or other processes of the Court, and involving a private injury. The learned author points out that the distinction between criminal contempt and contempt in procedure is in some cases a narrow one, and states, as an example, that, if a party to an action disobeys a prohibitory order, such disobedience, even though willful, is contempt in procedure; but persons who aid and abet such disobedience, and who are not parties to the action, are guilty of criminal contempt.

"From the authorities, and speaking generally, contempt of Court may be said to consist of any conduct that tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrepute, or to interfere with or prejudice parties litigant, or their witnesses, during the litigation."

The American National Judicial College's publication The Judge's Book, 1994, adds this (at page 292):

"The difference between criminal contempt and civil contempt  lies in the nature of the relief sought.

"The purpose of criminal contempt is to vindicate the authority of the court. Where the authority of court is challenged, the court has the power to punish the offender.

"A civil contempt is much like any other civil action: it alleges a duty and a breach of that duty and requests relief in the front of compensation or, more often, compliance with the court order.

"If the relief requested is future compliance with an order of court or just compensation for a past violation of a court order, the parties seeking civil contempt. If, on the other hand, the judge is punishing the contemnor because of acts which were disrespectful to the court, then criminal contempt is involved."

Two further distinctions: contempt ex facie is contempt committed outside the Court. Contempt in facie occurs in the face of the court; during court proceedings.

Not all courts have the jurisdiction to punish contempt ex facie but all courts do have the jurisdiction to punish contempt in facie.

The punishment for contempt used to be quick and severe: the loss of the offender's right hand. Now, the punishment is a fine or a brief stay in jail (eg. overnight).

FRENCH: outrage au tribunal.


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