Contempt of court is when a person does not behave appropriately in a court setting, or does not attend court when they were summoned to attend. It is an offense that can attract a fine of up to $12,000 or 12 months jail time – and sometimes both. If you have to appear in court, your legal adviser will advise you how to behave appropriately and then it is up to you to do so.
So exactly what kind of behaviour is considered contempt of court? Here are some examples.
- If you deliberately interrupt the court proceedings verbally, misbehave in court or insult anyone who constitutes the court – that is, those who form part of the court officials and the jury.
- If you insult or obstruct a person who constitutes the court as they are going into the court or out.
- If you refuse to take an oath or affirmation when requested in court.
- If you refuse to give evidence when you are able to do so and compellable.
- If you do not comply with a lawful direction of the court.
- If you don’t attend as a witness or otherwise, when you’ve been summoned and have no reasonable excuse not to go.
- If the court requires you to produce an item and you don’t and have no reasonable excuse for not doing so.
Being in court is often a trauma for a person, whether they are a witness or have been charged with some crime. Often, emotions and tempers run high and hot and this can make you jump up or interrupt the proceedings with some exclamation. You may be let off with a warning once, but if it happens again you may be charged with contempt. What happens then?
If you have been punished for contempt of court and you apologise for your behaviour the court may in some cases amend or cancel the order and allow some or all of the fine you have paid to be refunded. However, it is far better for you if the charge never had to be made in the first place.
Not only does bad behaviour upset you and those who are working on your behalf, it delays the proceedings so you don’t get it all over and done with as quickly as you would like. So taking care with your behaviour in the courtroom is something that will benefit you in the long run, even if you feel upset or angry.
Not only that, but if you are charged with some other offence, it is certainly not in your best interests to provoke a contempt of court charge as well. Doing so will only make your life even more miserable.