The Meaning of In Contempt of Court

Man in Court

Being in Contempt of Court means an act that tends to interfere with or undermine the authority, performance or dignity of the courts or those who participate in their proceedings.

Meaning of Contempt - What is Contempt of Court?

The oxford dictionary meaning of Contempt is ‘the feeling that somebody/something is without value and deserves no respect at all’.


Contempt can occur by Contempt in the face of the Court, Contempt by publication, Scandalising the Court or Disobedience of court orders.

The Law

The Court’s powers concerning Contempt are found in s 24 Local Court Act 2007. Those powers are the same as the District Court concerning Contempt of Court committed in the face or hearing of the Court: s 24(1). In addition, s53(3)(a) Supreme Court Act 1970 gives all divisions of the Supreme Court the power for punishment of Contempt of Court.


Examples of Contempt include:


  • abusing and swearing at a magistrate: Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW v Hall [2008] NSWSC 994
  • filming witnesses with a view to intimidation: Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of NSW v Rakete (2011) 202 A Crim R 117
  • prevaricating or refusing to answer questions: Keeley v Brooking (1979) 143 CLR 162
  • refusing to take the oath or give evidence: Smith v R (1991) 25 NSWLR 1
  • refusing to leave the Court when directed: In the matter of Bauskis [2006], NSWSC 908
  • disobeying court orders including subpoena: O’Shane v Channel Seven Sydney Pty Ltd [2005] NSWSC 1358.

As a last resort

The charge of contempt of Court is a last resort. Other options for the Court include:

  • a warning, reprimand or exclusion from Court
  • an opportunity for the alleged contemnor to seek legal advice
  • a “cooling off” period followed by an opportunity for an apology

In Ex p Bellanto; Re Prior [1963] NSWR 1556 at 1566, it was stated the decision to proceed to a charge for Contempt is a power to be used sparingly and only in serious cases. Its usefulness depends upon the wisdom and restraint with which it is exercised,

Can you go to jail for contempt of Court?

The penalty is a fine of 20 penalty units or imprisonment for 28 days. For disrespectful behaviour, the penalty is a fine of 10 penalty units or imprisonment of 14 days.


If you are charged with being in contempt of Court, you should seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer.

Defences available for being in Contempt of Court

The defences available for this charge are;



  • Duress;
  • Necessity; or
  • Self Defence
If you have been charged with being in contempt of Court. Call an expert bankstown criminal lawyer.


  • Mohammad Khan | Criminal Defence Lawyer

    Mohammad Khan is the Principal Solicitor of Lyons Law Group. After graduating with a Bachelor of Aviation from the University of New South Wales, Mohammad took a keen interest in the law. He began training in criminal law under the tutelage of Australia’s leading criminal lawyer Adam Houda and studied law at the University of Sydney.