1.What is Contempt?
2.Types of Contempt?
3. What Act may amount to Contempt
WHAT IS CONTEMPT OF COURT?
Contempt is the offence of being disobedient to or discourteous towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court.
According to Lord Denning MR, in his book: The Due Process of Law;
“there is not one stream of justice, There are many streams (sic) whatever obstructs their courses or muddies the waters of any of those stream is punishable under the single cognomen’ contempt of court”,
The foregoing definitions show that any act or omission therefore, that prejudices or is likely to prejudice a fair trial may be a contempt of court.
TYPES OF CONTEMPT OF COURT
Contempt of court may be classified into the following based on where it was committed
(i) contempt in the face of the court (infaciecuriae) and
(ii) Contempt outside the court (ex facie curiae).
CONTEMPT IN THE FACE OF THE COURT (infaciecuriae)
According to Lord Denning in Balogh V. St. Albans Crown Court,
Contempt committed in the face of the court”… was never confined to conduct which a judge saw with his own eyes. It covered all contempt for which a judge of his own motion could punish a man on the spot.” It really means “contempt in the cognizance of the court”
CONTEMPT OUTSIDE COURT (ex facie curiae)
This may be described as words spoken or otherwise published or, acts done outside court which are intended or likely to interfere with or obstruct the fair administration of justice
CONTEMPT OF COURT UNDER NIGERIA LAW
Under Nigeria laws contempt of court is a punishable offence under S. 133 Criminal Code the offence of contempt carries a maximum imprisonment for 3 months. contempt of court is punished by attachment or committal and the procedures for these are well known.
In EDEDUWA & ANOR V. STATE (1975) A All NLR 31 Pg 1.
The appellants were parties to a civil case before Justice Atake, they wrote a letter though the registrar of the High Court asking him to bring to the attention of his lordship their fear about his ability to try the case without bias, because His Lordship was from Itshekiri as their opponents.
Secondly they were worried that since the opponents were trustees of Itsehekiri land board and the judge was a beneficiary of that trust it will be difficult for them to be treated justly. The judge convicted them for contempt, on appeal, the appeal court said the letter was grossly contemptuous to the court.
In ATAKE V. PRESIDENT OF FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (1982) 11 S.C. 153.
Senator Atake asked for transfer of his case, he suggested in his request that the judge was not likely to do just in the proceedings since he received a gratification from Mr. President, in the form of a National honor (ie OFR). he withdraw the statement when asked to do so by the court, eventually, when ruling was delivered in favour of Mr. President. he filed an appeal in his affidavit in support of notice for leave to appeal, he set out three grounds of appeal, one of which repeated the implication of bias against the judge. The judge saw it for reacted as follows:
Judge: Senator Atake, I call on you to withdraw ground 1 of your proposed ground of appeal, I consider it an insult to this court, I give you 5 minutes to do it.
Senator Akake: You upset me, I have the right to file my grounds of appeal.
Atake was committed for contempt, he appealed to the court of appeal and eventually to the Supreme court and the Supreme court held that:
‘every insult offered to the judge in the exercise of his duty is a contempt and is even more grievous contempt where the object is to taint the source of justice’.
WHAT ACT MAY AMOUNT TO CONTEMPT OF COURT
1. Failure to obey a lawful order of a court.
2. Refusal to respond to a subpoena
3. Showing disrespect for the judge.
4. Disruption of proceedings.
5. publication of material or non-disclosure of material, which is deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial.
Punishment for contempt ranges from fine to imprisonment not exceeding 3 months.
It is worthy to note here that it is not every act of discourtesy to the court that amounts to contempt.