Legal Processes

Contempt of Court

  1. Contempt of court takes many forms and is essentially conduct that may impede the functionality of the court. Contemptuous acts are classified into two broad categories, namely, contempt by interference and contempt by disobedience.
  2. (a) Contempt by interference

    This category comprises a wide range of acts, including the disruption of the court process itself, acts which risk prejudicing or interfering with particular legal proceedings (also known as sub judice contempt), and acts or writing published calculated to bring a court or a judge of the court into contempt, or to lower his authority (also known as scandalising contempt).

    (b) Contempt by disobedience

    This category includes disobedience of court orders as well as breach of undertakings given to the court.

  3. Under s 7(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322), the High Court and the Court of Appeal have the power to punish for contempt of court. The punishment for contempt of court is imprisonment and/or fine. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act does not prescribe a limit on the sentence that the court may impose. The Subordinate Courts also have power to punish for contempt of court in relation to proceedings in the Subordinate Courts. The punishment prescribed in s 8(2) of the Subordinate Courts Act (Cap 321) is a term of imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000 or both. Whether a term of imprisonment and/or a fine will be imposed will depend on the precise facts and context of each case.
  4. The purpose of the law relating to the contempt of court, in particular, scandalising contempt, is to ensure that public confidence in the administration of justice is not undermined. In exercising such powers, the court is not seeking to vindicate its own dignity or the self-esteem of judges but to safeguard the integrity of legal proceedings for the benefit of those seeking recourse before the courts.
  5. There are two stages to commencing proceedings for contempt of court:

    (a) The first stage involves an application for leave (ie the court’s permission) to apply for an order of committal for contempt of court, as required by the Rules of Court. The application will be heard by the court without the presence of the person who is alleged to have committed contempt of court. The purpose of this stage is to allow the court to assess whether there is sufficient basis to have the person alleged to have committed contempt brought to court or whether the application should be dismissed without disturbing him.

    (b) If the court grants leave (or permission), then the second stage involves an application for an order of committal for contempt of court, which is an order of court setting out the court’s finding that contempt of court has been committed and the punishment to be imposed. The application will be served on the person who is alleged to have committed contempt of court. A hearing date will then be fixed for the court to hear both parties and to determine whether the person had committed contempt of court. If the person is found guilty, the court may impose a term of imprisonment and/or a fine.

Last updated / reviewed on 22 Feb 2017