Contempt of court
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A breach of a court injunction may lead to civil proceedings for contempt of court
Sometimes online harassers or those who are intending to publish harmful information may not be deterred until they face the real prospect of imprisonment. You may be able to increase the prospect of this happening by applying for an injunction. A breach of an injunction could lead to legal proceedings for contempt of court and imprisonment.
Civil proceedings for contempt of court would often relate to a breach of a court order, such as an injunction. An example would be a breach of an injunction to refrain from publishing defamatory or harassing posts or an order to remove defamation from the internet or harassing material. Criminal proceedings, on the other hand, would often relate to interference with legal proceedings.
An example of circumstances that might give rise to criminal contempt proceedings would be an unlawful publication that intended to interfere with a criminal trial. Both civil contempt of court and criminal contempt of court may be carried out by the press or by members of the public.
Courts have an inherent jurisdiction to protect their own processes and punish behaviour that interferes with these processes. Over the years Parliament has created laws that are aimed to bring more certainty to this area of law.
There are two main laws that govern proceedings for contempt of court. The first is statutory contempt, which is governed by the Contempt of Court Act 1981. The second is common law contempt, which is also referred to in Section 6(c) of Contempt of Court Act 1981.
The purpose of the law of contempt of court is to protect the integrity of legal proceedings, the administration of justice, and the rule of law, which is vital to the protection of the rights of every citizen. Contempt of court exists to ensure that court orders that are intended to protect individuals from harassment, from breach of their privacy and from other wrongdoing are complied with in a meaningful way.
An injunction is a court order that is intended to secure or to prevent certain activities by the individual against it is granted. For example, when someone is being harassed online, the victim of the harassment can seek an injunction which will state the types of activities that the harasser can no longer undertake. If the harasser takes steps to breach the injunction, they can be arrested and then face civil legal proceedings for contempt of court.
Another example would be when there is an injunction in place preventing the publication of intimate or private images on the internet and where the injunction is being breached. The publisher may then face civil contempt of court proceedings. Contempt of court proceedings for breach of an injunction could be taken against anyone who is aware of the existence of the injunction and not only against the individual who is named in the injunction.
This may include social media companies who are aware of the existence of an injunction but who nevertheless allow their platform to be used to breach the injunction. You don't have to actively breach an injunction in order to be held in contempt of court. It is enough to permit the breach of an injunction whilst being aware of its existence for the person or organisation breaching it to be held liable for contempt of court.
Section two of the 1981 Act creates a strict liability regime that applies to media publications, creating a substantial risk of serious prejudice to an ongoing court case, irrespective of whether there was any intent to do so.
However, despite the fact that contempt of the court proceedings for breach of an injunction take place in the civil court, the court will apply the criminal standard of proof which is beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no requirement to prove an intention to breach the injunction. It is only necessary to prove that the person breaching the injunction firstly had knowledge of the existence of the injunction and secondly, had acknowledged that they were doing or admitting to doing certain things prohibited by the injunction.
Yes. In those circumstances, it will be possible to bring contempt proceedings against a director or officer of the company, but it will be necessary to show that the director or officer knew of the court order and was responsible for the company's breach.
A penal notice in an injunction is a warning that is included in most injunctions which warns anyone who is aware of the existence of the injunction of the possibility of being held in contempt of court should they breach or facilitate a breach of the injunction.
Not every breach of an injunction will result in contempt of court proceedings and whether such a breach constitutes contempt, will be considered on a case-by-case basis based on the facts of each case. The court will take into consideration the seriousness of the breach, and whether the individual who breached the injunction did so deliberately and with the intention to disobey the court.
Yes. You might be held in contempt of court even if you are not named in the injunction. You do not need to be named in an injunction in order to be held in contempt of court for breaching it. If you are not named in an injunction but are aware of its existence and you nevertheless take steps which may undermine or destroy in whole or in part the subject matter of the injunction, you may still be held in contempt of court.
A court could impose a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine up to £2,500 if the judge finds that you have breached an injunction in contempt of court. If you are sent to prison for contempt of court, you will only serve half of your prison sentence. These courts can hold the individual who is facing contempt of court proceedings in custody pending the determination of their sentence.
However, in most cases, the High Court does not have the power to detain the person facing contempt of court proceedings in custody pending consideration of a sentence so whilst a sentence is being determined, the individual who is facing contempt of court proceedings may be permitted to leave court pending sentencing. The court has to justify the sentencing for contempt of court on the basis that the court’s disapproval of the breach of an injunction or in order to secure future compliance with it.
Contempt in the face of the court involves misconduct during the course of legal proceedings, normally criminal proceedings either within the court or somehow directly connected with what is taking place in court.
No. Contempt of court is not a criminal offence. It is rather a civil wrongdoing even though being found guilty of contempt of court could result in a prison sentence. Civil proceedings for contempt of court may be initiated by the individual affected by the breach of an injunction. The police or the Crown Prosecution Service have no power to institute proceedings for contempt.