Contempt a Trap for Untrained or Unwary
Contempt of Court laws means that there are dangers for the untrained, or unwary, in appearing in Court or covering Court proceedings for the media. RMB Lawyers Partner MARTIN CULLETON explains:
In modern society, the role of the Court is vitally important in resolving disputes, or dealing with allegations against a defendant, where the person has been charged with breaking the law.
The legal system consists of the judiciary, police and lawyers.
However, people have the right to represent themselves if they want to. The legal system recognises that right, and often makes every effort to ensure that such a person without legal training is not overawed or penalised for not being legally trained.
Without the Court system, it would be impossible to resolve ongoing disputes or to investigate whether someone has broken the law.
When someone is facing the Courts, there is a general understanding that the Court should be treated with respect. This applies equally to all of us involved in the legal system.
The same applies to the Court treating each individual involved in the legal processes with the same respect.
The Law of Contempt comes into effect where someone can be prosecuted and penalised if it is proven that their behaviour has resulted in the Court not being able to provide a fair trial, where they do not abide by any Court orders or where their actions prevent the Court form upholding the administration of justice.
In practical terms, this can include misbehaviour in the Court room, such as insulting the Judge or the Court staff, interfering with the proceedings, a witness refusing to answer questions or by the publication of material which may interfere with the administration of justice in a matter before the Court. (This third point means it is particularly important for journalists and other commentators covering court proceedings to understand the Law of Contempt.)
In such situations, the Court has the power, normally exercised by the Attorney General, to bring proceedings for Contempt of Court.
The Court has the power to ultimately send someone to prison if they are found guilty of Contempt of Court.
It is therefore important, when appearing in Court, that all of us seek to act with respect to the Court at all times, to ensure we never face such a situation.