What is Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court is the offense of being disobedient to, or disregard of, a court order or disrespectful towards a court of law. Committal proceedings empower the courts to hold a person in contempt for refusing to obey a court order. It ensures that the due administration of justice is possible, and that litigants do not disregard courts orders.
Types of Contempt of Court
Contempt of court can broadly be classified into two types:
- 1) Civil Contempt
- 2) Criminal Contempt
Civil contempt usually happens when a party or person refuses to comply with the order of the court. This type of contempt is remedial i.e., to ensure that there is justice to A for B’s failure to comply with a court order.
Criminal contempt is more serious than civil contempt. It happens when a person scandalises the courts, interferes with, or undermines judicial proceedings.
Regardless of whether the contempt is civil or criminal, the resulting effect is criminal. This is because a person
guilty of contempt may either be imprisoned or fined.
A. Ex Parte Application
Committal proceedings comprise of a two-stage process. The first stage is to apply Ex Parte for leave to commence committal proceedings. When applying for leave, there are 2 documents as set out in Order 52 rule 3(2) of the Rules of Court 2012 that need to be filed in Court i.e.:
- 1) Notice of Application supported by a statement which sets out:
- i. the name(s) and description of the applicant;
- ii. the name(s), description and addresses of the of the person sought to be committed (the proposed contemnor); and
- iii. The grounds on which the committal is sought.
- 2) Affidavit in Support verifying the facts averred in the Notice of Application.
At the hearing of the Ex Parte application, the Applicant must demonstrate to the Court that he/she has a prima facie case or a case to be answered by the Court to obtain the leave of court. At this stage, the hearing is conducted in the absence of the alleged contemnor. However, any alleged contemnor who wishes to attend the Ex Parte hearing and oppose the leave application can do so by requesting permission from the court to appear as an “opposed Ex Parte” basis [See: Dato’ Oon Ah Baa & Ors v Eagle & Pagoda Brand Teck Aun Medical Factory Sdn Bhd & Ors  7 CLJ 81 and Dato’ Sri Andrew Kam Tai Yeow v Tan Sri Dato’ Kam Woon Wah & Ors  MLJU 845].
It should also be noted that there is a general duty for the applicant to make full and frank disclosure of all material facts and failure to do so would result in the Ex Parte order being set aside.
B. Inter Partes Application
Upon leave being granted at the Ex Parte stage, Order 52 rule 4 of the Rules of Court 2012 stipulates that a Notice of Application for an order of committal must then be made to the Court within 14 days from the date leave was granted. In this Notice of Application, the Applicant must include the grounds of the alleged contempt otherwise it may be defective. Further, Order 52 rule 4(3) of the Rules of Court 2012 states that the Notice of Application and Affidavit in Support of the application for leave must then be personally served on the alleged contemnor.
At the hearing of Inter Partes Application, in order to satisfy an application for a committal order, the applicant must prove to the Court beyond reasonable doubt of the alleged contempt committed. Where there is a doubt, the Supreme Court in Houng Hai Hong Anor v MBf Holdings Bhd & Anor O’ 3 Other Appeals  4 CLJ 427 held that the doubt will be resolved in favour of the person sought to be committed.
As committal proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature which would result in imprisonment should there be a finding of contempt, the courts should be extra vigilant in committal proceedings, even at the Ex Parte stage.
This article is intended to be informative and not intended to be nor should be relied upon as a substitute for legal or any other professional advice.
About the Author
Pan Yan Teng
Senior Associate, Adjudication, Construction & Engineering Disputes
Harold & Lam Partnership