Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Criminal Contempt Definition:

Contumacious behaviour or behaviour which tends to publicly depreciate the authority of the court or the administration of justice.

Related Terms: Contempt of Court, Obstructing Justice, In Facie Contempt, Ex Facie Contempt, Direct Contempt, Indirect Contempt

In Zeidler, Justice Cooke adopted these words:

"Acts of contempt are sub-divided into civil contempts and criminal contempts. The distinction being broadly one between disobedience to orders or writs made or issued in civil actions (civil contempts) and contumacious behaviour or behaviour which tends to publicly depreciate the authority of the court or the administration of justice (criminal contempts). Where the public nature of the defiance of a civil order brings the administration of justice into scorn, the offence is a criminal contempt."

In Contempt of Court, the author C. J. Miller suggests this list of criminal contempt:

• Contempt in the face of the court which involves disruptive or disrespectful behaviour in the courtroom.

• Contempt through infringing the sub judice rule which involves conduct likely to influence the outcome of a trial.

• Scandalizing a court or a justice.

• Victimizing jurors, witnesses and other persons after the conclusion of the proceedings; and

• Publicizing judicial proceedings.

Miller goes on to add some other activities which, in his view, constitute criminal contempt: obstructing persons officially connected with the court or its process, interference with persons under the special protective jurisdiction of the court, breach of duty by persons officially connected with the court or its process, forging, altering or abusing the process of the court, divulging the confidences of the jury room, preventing access by the public to courts of law, service of process in the precinct of the court, and disclosing the identity of witnesses.

In United Nurses, albeit in a dissenting opinion, Justice Sopinka of Canada's Supreme Court adopted these words:

"Contempts are also classed as civil or criminal. The former are those quasi contempts which consist in the failure to do something which the party is ordered by the court to do for the benefit or advantage of another party to the proceeding before the court, while criminal contempts are acts done in disrespect of the court or its process or which obstruct the administration of justice or tend to bring the court into disrespect. A civil contempt is not an offense against the dignity of the court, but against the party in whose behalf the mandate of the court was issued, and a fine is imposed for his indemnity. But criminal contempts are offenses upon the court such as wilful disobedience of a lawful writ, process, order, rule, or command of court, and a fine or imprisonment is imposed upon the contemnor for the purpose of punishment.

"Criminal contempt for conduct ex facie the court is generally initiated by the Attorney General while civil contempt proceedings are initiated by a party or person affected by the order sought to be enforced."


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