Skip to main content

13. Criminal contempt of court


The common law has traditionally divided contempt of court into two categories – civil and criminal. In the simplest terms civil contempt is committed when an order of the court made in civil proceedings is disobeyed. More often than not its procedures are invoked by a party in whose favour an order has been made who wants to see it enforced.


Criminal contempt is applied to all other contempt, but more often than not those are contempt that somehow interfere with the administration of justice in a more general way, for example disrupting court proceedings, publishing materials that might influence the court, or insulting a judge.


Where an injunction order has been granted against occupiers of a public area (such as a section of highways) and those occupiers refuse to leave, criminal contempt would be committed if:


  • those occupiers, knowing of the injunction order, continue to remain in the area with the intention to remain; and
  • their conduct in remaining is inherently likely to prejudice or interfere with the due administration of justice, for example, when the bailiffs are about to execute or executing the injunction order in effecting the clearance and removal of obstacles.


Contempt is committed even if the occupiers did not, in fact, obstruct or interfere with those who are responsible for clearing up the obstacles.


Whether each of the respondents intentionally chose to remain and did remain at the area so as to amount to criminal contempt would be a matter of fact and degree in every instance for the court to decide.


The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years and a fine.