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Interference with legal proceedings

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“Contempt of court is the established, if unfortunate, name given to the species of wrongful conduct which consists of interference with the administration of justice. It is an essential adjunct of the rule of law. Interference with the administration of justice can take many forms” – Att.-Gen. v Punch Ltd [2002] UKHL 50.

There are two main forms of contempt – criminal and civil – but the burden of proof for both is to the criminal standard – Dean v Dean [1987] 1 FLR 517 CA. “The question whether contempt is a criminal contempt does not depend on the nature of the court to which the contempt was displayed; it depends on the nature of the conduct. To burst into a court room and disrupt a civil trial would be a criminal contempt just as much as if the court had been conducting a criminal trial. Conversely, disobedience to a procedural order of a court is not in itself a crime, just because the order was made in the course of criminal proceedings.” – R v O’Brien [2014] UKSC 23.

Criminal Contempt
A criminal contempt is conduct which goes beyond mere non-compliance with a court order and involves a serious interference with the administration of justice – Director of the Serious Fraud Office v B [2014] A.C. 1246. The general description of the nature of criminal contempt in Robertson and Gough [2007] HCJAC 63 is “conduct that denotes wilful defiance of, or disrespect towards the court, or that wilfully challenges or affronts the authority of the court or the supremacy of the law itself”. In short, it is behaviour which so threatens the administration of justice that it requires punishment from a public point of view.

The main types of criminal contempt are failing to answer questions in court, physically interfering with a trial, threatening witnesses and conduct obstructing or calculated to prejudice the due administration of justice. It can arise before, during or after criminal proceedings at either the Crown Court or the magistrates’ court, or in the course of any civil proceedings.

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