Contempt of court

offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers

Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority. Often referred to simply as "contempt," such as a person "held in contempt," it is the judge's strongest power to impose sanctions for acts which disrupt the court's normal process.

Quotes edit

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904) edit

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 45-47.
  • The phrase "contempt of court" often misleads persons not lawyers, and causes them to misapprehend its meaning, and to suppose that a proceeding for contempt of court amounts to some process taken for the purpose of vindicating the personal dignity of the Judges, and protecting them from personal insults as individuals. Very often it happens that contempt is committed by a personal attack on a Judge or an insult offered to him; but as far as their dignity as individuals is concerned, it is of very subordinate importance compared with the vindication of the dignity of the Court itself; and there would be scarcely a case, I think, in which any Judge would consider that, as far as his personal dignity goes, it would be worth while to take any steps.
    • Blackburn, J., Skipworth's Case (1873), L. R. 9 Q. B. Ca. 232.
  • The object of the discipline enforced by the Court in case of contempt of court 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.
    • Bowen, L.J., Hellmore v. Smith (2) (1886), L. R. 35 C. D. 455.
  • There are three different sorts of contempt. One kind of contempt is scandalizing the Court itself. There may be likewise a contempt of this Court, in abusing parties who are concerned in causes here. There may be also a contempt of this Court, in 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 with safety both to themselves and their characters.
    • Lord Hardwicke, Case of Printer of St. James's Evening Post (1742), 2 Atk. 471.
  • Vus nus dirrez en un autre manere comment yl est plus procheyn heyr, ou vous demurrz sanz manger et beyre jekes demyn matyn enclos. (You shall tell us in another way how he was next heir, or you shall remain shut up without eating or drinking until to-morrow morning.)
    • Roubury, J., Pleas in the Common Bench (1293), Y. B. 21 & 22 Ed. I., p. 272.
  • It seems to me that this jurisdiction of committing for contempt being practically arbitrary and unlimited, should be most jealously and carefully watched, and exercised, if I may say so, with the greatest reluctance and the greatest anxiety on the part of Judges to see whether there is no other mode which is not open to the objection of arbitrariness, and which can be brought to bear upon the subject.
    • Jessel, M.R., In re Clements, Clements v. Erlanger (1877), 46 L. J. Ch. 383.
  • The law has armed the High Court of Justice with the power, and imposed on it the duty of preventing brevi manu and by summary proceedings any attempt to interfere with the administration of justice. It is on that ground, and not on any exaggerated notion of the dignity of individuals that insults to Judges are not allowed.
    • Bowen, L.J., In re Johnson (1887), L. R. 20 Q. B. D. 74.
  • It is truly remarked that all the particular instances of contempts it would be endless to enumerate.
    • Williams, J., Miller v. Knox (1838), 4 Bing. N. C. 589.
  • From the earliest period of our history this authority has been exercised. The Year-books record instances of such commitments.
    • Best, J., R. v. Davison (1821), 4 B. & A. 340.
  • Committals for contempt of Court are ordinarily in cases where some contempt ex facie of the Court has been committed, or for comments on cases pending in the Courts. However, there can be no doubt that there is a third head of contempt of Court by the publication of scandal matter of the Court itself. . . . Committal for contempt of Court is a weapon to be used sparingly, and always with reference to the interests of the administration of justice. Hence, when a trial has taken place and the case is over the Judge or the jury are given over to criticism. Committals for contempt of Court by scandalising the Court itself have become obsolete in this country. Courts are satisfied to leave to public opinion attacks or comments derogatory or scandalous to them.
    • Lord Morris, McLeod v. St. Aubyn (1899), L. R. App. Cas. [1899], p. 561.
  • There are many ways of obstructing the Court. Endeavours are not wanting either to disturb the Judge or to influence the jury, or to keep back or pervert the testimony of witnesses, or by other methods, according to the emergency of the occasion, to obstruct the course of justice. These powers are given to the Judges to keep the course of justice free: powers of great importance to society, for by the exercise of them law and order prevail; those who are interested in wrong are shown that the law is irresistible. It is this obstruction which is called in law contempt, and it has nothing to do with the personal feelings of the Judge, and no Judge would allow his personal feelings to have any weight in the matter. According to my experience, the personal feelings of the Judges have never had the slightest influence in the exercise of these powers entrusted to them for the purpose of supporting the dignity of their important office; and so far as my observation goes, they have been uniformly exercised for the good of the people.
    • Erie, C.J., Ex parte Fernandez (1861), L. J. C. P. 332.
  • The privilege of committing for contempt is inherent in every deliberative body invested with authority by the Constitution.
    • Lord Denman, C.J., Stockdale v. Hansard (1837), 3 St. Tr. (N. S.) 854.

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