Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority. Often referred to simply as "contempt," such as a person "held in contempt," it is the judge's strongest power to impose sanctions for acts which disrupt the court's normal process.
A finding of contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behaviour, or publication of material deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court. Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.
In civil cases involving disputes between private citizens, the behaviour resulting in the ruling is often directed at one of the parties involved rather than at the court directly.
A person found in contempt of court is called a "contemnor." To prove contempt, the prosecutor or complainant must prove the four elements of contempt:
- Existence of a lawful order
- The contemnor's knowledge of the order
- The contemnor's ability to comply
- The contemnor's failure to comply
In Australia a judge may impose a fine, fixed jail term, or hold a person at the pleasure of Her Majesty. The latter is usually until such time as a person has performed a sincere act of contrition (i.e., purging the offense) or the order is no longer deemed necessary to the carriage of justice.
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