Types of Criminal Contempt
Criminal contempt takes the form of many types of offences which can be broadly categorized into four main areas:
1) Contempt in the face of the court
Contempt in the face of the court is also known as contempt in facie curiae. The phrase ‘In the face of court’ is contempt which occurs in the cognisance of the court. It means that the contemnor has done an act which immediately disrupts or interferes with the proceedings, leaving the judge no choice but to bring the contemnor before the court to fine or sentence him to immediate imprisonment. This ensures that the administration of justice continues without further interruption.
This is supported by the case of Re Kumaraendran (Advocate and Solicitor) where the court held that contempt of court refers to an act or conduct in open court that immediately disrupts judicial proceedings (i.e. the contempt is in the cognizance of the court where the judge was fully aware of it).
2) Scandalizing the court
In Murray Hiebert v Chandra Sri Ram, it was held that ‘scandalizing the court’ is a convenient way of describing a publication which, although it does not relate to any specific case either past or pending or any specific judge, is a scurrilous attack on the judiciary as a whole, which is calculated to undermine the authority of the courts and public confidence in the administration of justice.
What is the point of contempt of scandalising the court? As per R v Editor of the New Statesman ex p DPP, it was held that the charge of contempt [of scandalising the court] is not to spare the feelings of a particular judge. It is instead for the public interest as such remarks may have a detrimental effect on the carrying out of judicial responsibilities.
In the case of P v The Straits Times Press Ltd and PP v SRN Palaniappan & Ors, it was held that criticisms that are considered within the limit of reasonable courtesy in England and other jurisdictions are not necessarily so in Malaysia. Furthermore, the court was of the view that it is not necessary to prove there was a real risk that the administration of justice is prejudiced, it is sufficient to prove that it is likely to do so.
3) Prejudicing or impeding court proceedings
The law of contempt is applied in restricting reports or comments on actual or potential legal proceedings on the basis of privacy or confidentiality of the parties. This is also known as sub judice. According to the case of Najib v PP, sub judice is part of the law of contempt, which in turn is especially concerned with interference with the due administration of justice and the legal process which invariably extends to the right of an accused to a fair trial.
This rule on sub judice applies in situations where it is necessary to keep all or some aspects of the proceedings secret in order to protect the personal rights of someone involved. Examples of such instances are those cases involving sexual offences or children, or areas of intellectual property like trade secrets as well as government secrets.
4) Interfering with the course of justice
This catch-all category covers every other form of criminal contempt which in any way obstructs or interferes with or deflects the administration of justice. This will include intimidation of witnesses, destroying of evidence, changing notes of evidence, obstructing court officials from performing their duties etc.