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Contempt of Court Offences (WA)

Written by Stacey Byrne

Stacey Byrne holds a Bachelor of Laws with Distinction and a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. Stacey was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Western Australia in May 2018. Stacey has a lot of experience in Family Law and is adept at negotiating settlements and in Family Court litigation.  She also regularly appears on client’s behalf in the Magistrates Court for a range of matters including Family Violence Restraining Orders, Criminal and Traffic matters. Stacey is passionate about finding practical, timely and cost-effective solutions for her clients. Stacey has also volunteered at community legal centres providing legal advice to a range of clients.

In Western Australia each court has its own individual jurisdiction in relation to contempt of court. Under each jurisdiction, a person may be found guilty of contempt of court offences and be liable to a fine or a term of imprisonment, or both.

If a person who has been punished for contempt of court apologises to the court, the court may amend or cancel the order imposing the punishment and may order the refund of some or all of the fine that has been paid. It is worth noting that the punishment of a person for contempt of court due to failure to perform an obligation does not relieve the person from the obligation.

When attending any court in Western Australia it is important that you observe court etiquette and comply with any orders made by the Magistrate or Judge presiding. If you are required to attend court and are unsure what etiquette applies, it may be beneficial to seek legal advice.

Contempt of Court in the Magistrates Court

Pursuant to section 15 of the Magistrates Court Act 2004 a person is guilty of contempt of court if the person:

  • while the court is sitting the person wilfully:
    • interrupts the proceedings
    • misbehaves before the court; or
    • insults the Registrar or Magistrate.
  • wilfully insults or obstructs:
    • a person going to a courtroom for the purpose of constituting the court
    • a person leaving a courtroom having constituted the court
  • refuse to take an oath or affirmation requested by the court.
  • refuses to give evidence when they are competent and compellable to do so.
  • does not comply with a lawful direction of the court.
  • having been served with a summons to attend as a witness, does not attend without a reasonable excuse.
  • having been required by the court to produce a record or thing to the court, does not do so without a reasonable excuse.
  • does not comply with a court order whether it be to do an act or cease to do an act.

If a person is found guilty of contempt of court in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia the court may impose a fine of not more than $12,000 or a term of not more than 12 month’s imprisonment, or both.

Contempt in the face of the court is the unlawful disruption or obstruction of court proceedings. Under Section 16 of the Magistrates Court Act, if a person commits a contempt in the face of the court, the presiding court officer may order the person to be arrested and brought before the court to be dealt with for the contempt. Alternately, the offender may be summonsed to attend court on another occasion.

Contempt of Court in the Family Court

In the Family Court of Western Australia, a person can be found guilty of contempt of court following an order of the court or after an application by any interested party.

The Family Court deals with contempt of court differently depending on whether the acts or omissions involved consist of a breach of a court order or of some other form of disobedience or disrespect to the court.

Section 234(1) of the Family Court Act 1997 (WA) empowers the Family Court to punish a  person for an instance of contempt of court that does not constitute a contravention of an order or which constitutes a contravention of an order that involves a flagrant challenge of the authority of the court.

A party can make a contempt application if they allege that another party to the proceedings are in breach of a parenting order or another order such as a property order. Before making a contempt application in the family court you need to consider what you are seeking as a remedy.

The court can impose a range of remedies from enforcing the order to punishing the party by way of a fine or imprisonment.

The Court can decide to order that:

  • arrangements from a previous order be reinstated;
  • a party be compensated for lost contact time;
  • an existing order be varied;
  • a person is put on notice that if they do not comply, they will be punished; or
  • the person who has committed contempt of court pay a fine or serve a term of imprisonment.

A Contempt of Court Application should only be made if the breach is so severe as to warrant a serious criminal charge. If a party wants the other party to comply with orders, it is more beneficial to make an enforcement application rather than an application for contempt of court.

Contempt of Court in the District Court

Pursuant to Section 63 of the District Court Act 1969 (WA), a person can be found in contempt of court in the District Court if they:

  • wilfully insult a judge, juror, registrar, the sheriff, clerk or officer of the court during his sitting or attendance in court or any judge who is going to or returning from the court; or
  • wilfully interrupt proceedings of the court; or
  • having been summonsed to appear and paid for travelling expenses and subsistence, refuse or neglect to appear or to produce any books, deeds, papers or writings required by a summons to be produced; or
  • having been summonsed and required to give evidence, refuse to be sworn in as a witness or to answer any lawful questions; or
  • are in the opinion of the District Court judge before whom the person is appearing as a witness, guilty of wilful prevarication; or
  • misbehave in the court.

If a person is found guilty of contempt of court in the District Court of Western Australia the person may be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or may impose on the person a fine not exceeding $50,000. If the person is not able to make an immediate payment of the fine, the court may make an order that the person be sentenced to a term of imprisonment in lieu of payment or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.

If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal law matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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