1. Contempt of court takes many forms and is essentially conduct that may impede the functionality of the court. What amounts to contempt of court is now defined in sections 3 and 4 of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016 (“the Act”), and can be classified into two broad categories, namely contempt by interference and contempt by disobedience.
This category comprises a wide range of acts, including acts which risk prejudicing or interfering with a court proceeding that is pending (also known as sub judice contempt), acts impugning the integrity or impartiality of any court and posing a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice would be undermine (also known as scandalising contempt), and acts interfering with the ability of a witness to appear in court.
This category includes intentional disobedience of court orders as well as intentional breaches of undertakings given to the court.
2. Under s 10(1) of the Act, the Court of Appeal and the High Court have the jurisdiction to try and power to punish for contempt of court. The State Court, the Family Court and the Youth Court also have such jurisdiction and power, but only in relation to contempt of court committed before those courts or in connection with proceedings therein. The punishment for contempt of court is a fine or imprisonment or both. Section 12 of the Act stipulates different maximum imprisonment terms and fines, depending on the level of court exercising the power to punish for contempt. Whether a term of imprisonment and/or a fine will be imposed will depend on the precise facts and context of each case.
3. 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.
4. 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 punishment for contempt of court.