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Opinions of Thursday, 8 October 2020

Columnist: Emmanuel Abu Ampong

A case of 'contempt' of court

There's the need to understand the concept of the law of contempt and its deficiencies There's the need to understand the concept of the law of contempt and its deficiencies

Contempt of court, a quasi-criminal offence with a legal intent to protect the dignity, honour and integrity of the court and to prevent future contemnor from indulging in the act of contempt has in years been still-born.

Considerably, the scope of the law of contempt of court and the procedure to be applied in contempt case or proceedings has since the inception of this area of the law caused what could be termed as legal pandemic among several legal jurisdictions across the world.

This area of law to some legal brains out of its uncertainty in scope has caused "men born of steal" to attempt a precise definition and application of the contempt proceedings and what could warrant liability in this regard, yet have been partially successful.

For clear and good understand this article follow the following structure pattern, understanding the concept of the law of contempt, its deficiencies and possible reforms.

The concept of the law of contempt.

Justice Cussen in the Supreme Court in the year 1906, set out a broad definition of contempt of court which has since been cited with approval many times, including by the High Court:

He stated, "Its essence is action or inaction amounting to an interference with, or obstruction to, or tending to interfere with or obstruct the due administration of justice, using that term in a broad sense".

Also, the following could be sighted as contempt, unnecessary interference with proceedings in court, tampering with restricted documents in court, threatening witnesses and conduct obstructing or calculated attempt to prejudice the due administration of justice.


Contempt even though sui generis in nature suffers some form of deficiencies due to an express lack of precision in clearly defining the nature of the offence hence leading to the adaptation of the model "we will know it when we see it".

A clear example is a recent New South Wales case where a journalist, attending court to report on a murder trial, allegedly entered the jury room where she was found by the sheriff and removed before she had spoken to any jury members. The presiding judicial officer informed the journalist that she might be in contempt of court and allowed the journalist to show why she should not be dealt with for contempt.

In such a case a question arises as to whether or not an in-deliberate act of a journalist could amount to undue interference with justice.

Secondly, as a principle of natural justice in Latin, Nemo Judex in Sua Causa which means "no man can be a judge in his cause", simply implies no man can be a judge in a case they have a personal interest. This principle believes, if a judge sits in a case he or she has an interest, can lead to an alteration in the administration of justice in any possible way.

However, in most cases of contempt of court, the court is seen to act as both plaintiff and the final decision-maker. This in effect leads to a question of whether or not a court which happens to be a party in a case of contempt, is, in the face of the law, not causing an offence of recusation (a process whereby a judge is no longer suitable to hear a dispute before a court because of a personal interest in the case).

Lastly, in a popular case of Republic v Bank of Ghana & 5 Ors; Ex Parte Benjamin Duffour where it was held that a party to a suit may well be in contempt of court in the absence of formal court order.

The Court stressed that a person was in contempt of court if that person engaged in an act after the filing of a case which had the effect of interfering with the fair trial of the case or undermining the administration of justice. The above case hereby opens the flood gates to questioning the sacrosanct nature of the concept as to whether or not a writ can breed contempt.

Possible Reforms

Averagely, the powers of court even though is not limited in scope as to hearing a case on contempt, there should exist the need for legal reforms to declare the concept of contempt and other conducts punishable as a result of a violation of this area of law.