CRIMINAL LAW 2.10 CRIMINAL CONTEMPT
It is a willful ACT OR OMISSION capable of bringing judicial authority into disrepute or an act capable of obstructing the administration of justice, Atake V A.G Federation; Awobokun V Adeyemi. Such are criminalised. See Sections 133 and 115 of the Criminal Code and Penal Code respectively.
Blackslaw Dictionary defines contempt as any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the courts in the administration of justice
The court, in Awosanya V Board of Customs and Excise recognised the distinction between Criminal Contempt and Civil Contempt. Criminal Contempt usually occurs in facie curia (i.e. in the presence of the court) while Civil Contempt usually ex facie curia (i.e. Outside the face of the court… for example where there is a refusal to obey court orders.). Although they may intertwine as it all depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.
We shall be focusing on Criminal Contempt.
Section 133 of the Criminal Code provides for certain acts which can amount to contempt. They Include: where the accused:
(1) Shows disrespect during any judicial proceeding to the judge.
(2) Having been called to be a witness, fails to attend, refuses to be sworn or refuses to answer a question or remains in the room after witnesses have been asked to leave.
(3) Obstructs or disturbs a Judicial proceeding.
(4) Makes a statement while the proceeding is pending to lower the judge or prejudice the parties concerned.
(5) Publishes evidence taken in a judicial proceeding which has been directed to be secret.
(6) Attempts to or wrongfully interferes or influence witness before or after testifying.
(7) Dismisses his servant for giving evidence against him.
(8) Repossesses land after the court has granted it to another by writ.
This list is not exhaustive, other situations of contempt may include; -Calling a judge a liar; alleging that the judge is biased- Atake V AG Federation; -the accused walking out on a court while its sitting-Magna Maritime Services Ltd V Otoju; -Placing legs on the desk; -Foul language in court-R V New Statesman(Editor); –Private communication or inducement of the judge to sway judgment in client’s favour-Awobukan V Adeyemi; -Interrupting court proceedings; – Carelessly/loudly Chewing gum, Signing, whistling, chatting, shouting… etc. during proceedings-r V Powell; -Interference with witness interview-Connolly V Dale; -Demonstration during court processes-Morris V Crown; –Publications in Newspaper attacking a Judge in pending or contemplated proceedings-Agbachom V The State, R V Thomas Jackson, Aniweta V The State, and other like acts.
From the above, we can see that Criminal Contempt may involve acts or omissions which can scandalise/disrespect the court or obstruct the administration of justice.
The truth is that in practice; Whether or not an act would amount to contempt or not depends on the temperament of the judge and the mind-set of the court. An act which may amount to contempt in one court may be condoned/pardoned if committed in another court/ against another judge. Contrasting Okoduwa V The State and Atake V A.G Federation where alleging a judge was bias was held not to be contempt in the former while in the latter case, it was held to be contempt. See the case of Morris V Grown, where one Mrs Stone threw a book which passed between lord Diplock and lord Denning because her application was refused. The lords ignored/pardoned this act. Mrs Stone later realised her wrong and praised the judges saying; “I commend your lordships for your coolness under fire”.
Note that where reasons can be adduced for the bad behaviour or the contemnor apologises (also called “purges himself”) he may be pardoned. See Itori V The Queen, where the appellant (a lawyer) was convicted for failing to attend the court. The conviction was quashed on appeal because he had sought the leave of the court to be absent but it was unreasonably refused.
Note also, that where the act/statement was made in fair and good faith, it may not amount to contempt in Okoduwa V The State; the accused was sentenced to death for armed robbery. The counsel for the accused alleged that there was bias, denial of fair hearing and that the judge of the trial court had descended into the arena. On these basis, the counsel for the accused applied for the transfer of the case to another court. He was convicted for contempt. At the Supreme Court, his conviction was quashed as the facts and circumstances showed that his criticism of the judge was fair and in good faith.
Due procedure should be followed in trying and punishing the offender. In R V Drummond, his conviction was quashed on the basis of procedural irregularity.
:: Contempt is a simple offence that can ground liability of imprisonment for up to 3 months or less. For example; in Nunku V IGP, the appellant was convicted for contempt for 5 days.
:: Note also that since criminal contempt is a simple offence, the offender cannot be arrested without a warrant.