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Contempt of Court Explained

There can be certain situations where you need to understand what being in 'contempt of court' means. Discover who can be 'held in contempt' in the United Kingdom (and why it happens).

The information in this guide also explains the consequences of being in contempt. Find out how to avoid making contemptuous comments on social media (e.g. Facebook) and how to report acts of unfairness.

A simple definition of ‘contempt in court’ is someone using unfair methods that risk influencing a case in a court of law.

In some cases, it can stop somebody getting a fair trial. Thus, certain acts of contempt can affect the outcome of a trial, such as:

  • Civil contempt (disobeying a court order or ignoring one).
  • Criminal contempt (shouting out in court or taking photographs).
  • Refusing to answer questions directed to you (e.g. by the judge) if a court calls you as a witness.
  • Making public comments about a court case (e.g. reporting the details via online news articles of on social media platforms).

Warning: There are severe penalties for anyone found to be in contempt in the United Kingdom. The penalty for contempt of court is a fine, a prison sentence for up to two (2) years, or it can be both.

Commenting ‘Publicly’ On a Court Case

Speaking in public about a case (slander), or posting comments on social media (libel), means you could be held in contempt of court at the discretion of the judge.

So, to avoid potential problems you should not:

  • Say (oral), or state (written), whether you think that a person is guilty or is innocent.
  • Make references to the previous convictions of a person in a court case.
  • Name someone that the judge allows to remain anonymous (even if you had no prior knowledge of this).
  • Name any victims, witnesses, or offenders who are under the age of eighteen (18).
  • Name the victims of sex crimes.
  • Share any of the evidence or the facts about a case if the judge states they cannot be made public.

Note: As a rule, it refers to actions which may defy the authority of a court, might cast disrespect on the case, or impede the ability of the judicial system to perform its function.

Direct vs. Indirect Contempt

In fact, there are two types of contempt of court you should avoid. They are ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ (also referred to as constructive or consequential contempt).

  • Direct contempt would occur inside the courtroom (or associated buildings) during the proceedings.
  • Whereas, indirect contempt would be something that occurred outside the presence of the premises.

Contempt and Criminal Records

As a general rule, contempt in court charges do not appear on criminal records. This would certainly apply to a minor violation, such as a traffic charge.

Crime, Justice, and the Law

The main section lists topics of the legal profession and the different circumstances for going to court. Find guidance and information on key subjects relating to the courts, sentencing, appeals, and tribunals.

Providing you didn’t make the judge too angry, these issues rarely get entered into the computer database. The courts consider them as being more of an administrative charge than that of a serious criminal charge.

How to Report Contempt of Court UK

There are several steps you can take if you see something that you feel may risk the fairness of a future case (or an ongoing one).

Reporting contempt in court can take place by (either):

Note: Try to include screenshots of the posts (if available) if you are reporting an example of contempt as seen online.

What Does Contempt of Court Mean in United Kingdom