Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Direct Contempt Definition:

Contempt of Court which is aimed expressly against the dignity or authority of the Court itself in the person of its Judges or officers.

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

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

"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...."

But in Re Troutt, Justice Wood of the United States Court of Appeals wrote that direct contempt must occur while the Court is in session and to its face:

"Direct contempt is contumacious conduct committed in the actual presence of the court and may be punished summarily. All other contempt must be treated as indirect contempt....

"Other factors distinguishing direct from indirect contempt include whether the act was committed in the presence of the judge and whether extrinsic evidence will be needed to prove the contempt."

In Forbes v State, Justice Taylor of the District Court of Appeal of Florida used these words:

"Direct contempt occurs when a person speaks words or commits acts in the presence of the court or a judge acting judicially or when a person resists or interferes with the lawful authority of the court in its presence or so near the court or judge as to interrupt or hinder judicial proceedings.

"Indirect contempt, by contrast, occurs not in the presence of a court or of a judge acting judicially, but at a distance under circumstances that reasonably tend to degrade the court or the judge as a judicial officer, or to obstruct, interrupt, prevent, or embarrass the administration of justice by the court or judge."

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:


  • Austman and Oddson v Bjarnason [1932] 2 WWR 20
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Contempt of Court: Greatest Hits
  • Forbes v. State, 933 So. 2d 706 (2006)
  • In re Troutt, 460 F. 3d 887 (2006)
  • Miller, Jeffrey, The Law of Contempt in Canada (Toronto: Carswell, 1997)

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