Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

What is contempt of court?

Courtroom gavelYou rarely get through a courtroom drama without someone being warned about contempt of court - but how does it work in the real world?

Contempt of court is, essentially, when someone disobeys an order from the court or is disrespectful or disruptive in court. Depending on how serious it is, this could be a civil or a criminal offense.

A simple example of contempt of court is when a person tries to disrupt a trial by being loud or violent. There are also other specific acts which count as contempt, such as bringing a camera or a device that records sound into the court.

However, you don't have to be in court to be held in contempt. Refusing to obey an order to go into court, for example, could result in being charged with contempt. In fact, you don't even have to be involved with a case: publishing material that could seriously affect a trial is also contempt of court.

Contempt of court laws are intended to make sure that the courts can work fairly and effectively. However, this also has to balance with the right to criticise the court.

In England, the maximum punishment for contempt of court is two years imprisonment, although many cases result only in a fine or even a simple apology.

Related links