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Opinions of Monday, 24 November 2014

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson

Is it a Punishable Offence to be in Contempt of Court?

Fellow Ghanaians, I require your expressed views on this issue- Contempt of Court. In many countries across the world where the law is no respecter of persons, those flouting court orders are punished. How often are people in Ghana penalised for infringing court orders - Contempt of court? If at all they are, which group of people are often punished – the poor, the rich or all persons found to be in contempt of court?

Are those that society has helped shaped into human monsters, thus, developed tough skin and consequently don't give a hoot about any authority, but have become law unto themselves, also punishable?

The answers that I will get from the public will be imputed into my follow-up publications.

The following are direct quotes from:

WIKIPEDIA: "Contempt of court, often referred to simply as "contempt", is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behaviour that opposes or defies authority, justice, and dignity of the court.[1][2] It manifests itself in wilful disregard of or disrespect for the authority of a court of law, which is often behaviour that is illegal because it does not obey or respect the rules of a law court.[3][4]

As explained in the People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill, "there are essentially two types of contempt: (1) being rude, disrespectful to the judge or other attorneys or causing a disturbance in the courtroom, particularly after being warned by the judge; (2) wilful failure to obey an order of the court."[5] Contempt proceedings are especially used to enforce equitable remedies, such as injunctions. [6]

When a court decides that an action constitutes contempt of to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority, called "found" or "held in court, it can issue a court order that in the context of a court trial or hearing declares a person or organization contempt"; this is the judge's strongest power to impose sanctions for acts that disrupt the court's normal process.

A finding of being in contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behaviour, or publication of material deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court. Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems. The client or person must be proven to be guilty before he/she will be punished".

BRITISH LAW ON:

Contempt of Court

Act 1981 CHAPTER 49

Penalties for contempt and kindred offences

14.-(1) In any case where a court has power to commit a person to prison for contempt of court and (apart from this provision) no limitation applies to the period of committal, the committal shall (without prejudice to the power of the court to order his earlier discharge) be for a fixed term, and that term shall not on any occasion exceed two years in the case of committal by a superior court, or one month in the case of committal by an inferior court. (2) In any case where an inferior court has power to fine a person for contempt of court and (apart from this provision) no limit applies to the amount of the fine, the fine shall not on any occasion exceed £500.

(3) In relation to the exercise of jurisdiction to commit for contempt of court or any kindred" offence, subsection (1) of 1973 c. 62. section 19 of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 (prohibition of imprisonment of persons under seventeen years of age)

Contempt of Court Act 1981 c. 49 shall apply to all courts having that jurisdiction as it applies to the Crown Court and magistrates' courts. (4) Each of the superior courts shall have the like power to make a hospital order or guardianship order under section 60 of the Mental Health Act 1959 in the case of a person suffering 1959 c. 72. from mental illness or severe subnormality who could otherwise be committed to prison for contempt of court as the Crown Court has under that section in the case of a person convicted of an offence.

(5) The enactments specified in Part III of Schedule 2 shall have effect subject to the amendments set out in that Part, being amendments relating to the penalties and procedure in respect of certain offences of contempt in coroners' courts, county courts and magistrates' courts. 15.-(1) In Scottish proceedings, when a person is committed Penalties for to prison for contempt of court the committal shall (without contempt of prejudice to the power of the court to order his earlier discharge) Scottish be for a fixed term. (2) The maximum penalty which may be imposed by way of imprisonment or fine for contempt of court in Scottish proceedings shall be two years' imprisonment or a fine or both, except that-

(a) Where the contempt is dealt with by the sheriff in the course of or in connection with proceedings other than criminal proceedings on indictment, such penalty shall not exceed three months' imprisonment or a fine of £500 or both; and such penalty shall not exceed sixty days' imprisonment (b) Where the contempt is dealt with by the district court, imprisonment or a fine of £200 or both can be imposed.

On Friday 25 April 2014, in Accra, Mr Justice Stephen A. Brobbey, a retired Supreme Court Judge, "warned that all courts have undoubted authority over the enforcement of their orders in manners that result in trampling on human rights of any citizen or institution. Anyone who decides to flex his power muscles over the execution of a court order, should know that laws on contempt of court empower all courts to punish offenders for disobeying its orders, Justice Brobbey stated at the inaugural lecture of the Ghana Academy Arts and Sciences (GAAS) in Accra".

Lest I forget, did the nine judges on Ghana's Supreme Court not convict and sentenced Ken Kuranchie, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Searchlight, of criminal contempt in connection of his critical articles. This was on July 2, 2013. Were then NPP General Secretary Mr Owusu Afriyie, alias "Sir John" and Hopeson Adorye, not also punished for being in contempt of court?

If they were punished, why not others who claim to have powers do whatever they like without anyone, or any law, able to obstruct them from pursuing their intentions, however dangerous, irresponsible, and or illegal they may be? I am following closely an ongoing case hinging on contempt of court. I shall keep the public in the loop, so stay tuned.

This publication is direct quote from sources. It has so been for a specific reason. It is part of my research that I have promised to place in the public domain to help educate fellow Ghanaians on some laws that most of us are not conversant with until today.

Those who think they are that too powerful to break the laws with impunity let them be warned!

Rockson Adofo