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Contempt of court – what is it and what is the likely sentence?

The case of Tommy Robinson, or to give him his real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has brought the issue of contempt of court into the public eye, but what is it all about?

What is contempt of court?

The interesting thing about contempt of court is the many ways in which it can be committed. It can be civil or criminal in nature. This means that conduct that is not itself a criminal offence can still be punishable by the court. Criminal contempt goes beyond simple non-compliance with a court order.

contempt of court

So, give me some examples?

In Yaxley-Lennon’s case, it was his reporting and commenting on a trial which was in progress with the potential to prejudice those proceedings. He had previously committed the same contempt by attempting to film defendants within the precincts of a court last year.

In a case in Sheffield, contempt of court was committed by protesters who had given an undertaking not to go within a safety zone erected around trees that were to be felled despite controversy.

In the civil court a freezing order was made against Andrew Camilleri.  He breached that order on a number of occasions.  This led the claimant to make an application to the court for committal to prison for contempt of court.

A further case involving breaches of freezing orders made in the civil court was that of Davies.  This case involved persistent and deliberate breaches.

A witness who refused to give evidence after ignoring a witness summons and being brought to court found himself on the wrong side of contempt of court proceedings.

A defendant who had an outburst in court during his sentence hearing, then refused to apologise, followed by another outburst, was dealt with for two contempt of court offences.  He received a sentence for this in addition to the offence for which he was already being sentenced.

A lady took photographs inside a court building of a defendant and their friends making ‘gestures of defiance and contempt’ inside the court precincts with the court notice board behind them. The defendant was also found to be in contempt for inciting the taking of the photograph.

So, tread carefully, it is easy to find yourself in the dock.

contempt of court

What can I get?

Up to two years imprisonment at the Crown Court or one month at the magistrates’ court (although it can be up to 2 months in relation to some civil orders).

Yaxley-Lennon received ten months imprisonment for his latest offence to be served consecutively to three months imprisonment for the offence last year, as he had been on a suspended sentence for that.  Both conviction and sentence are currently subject to appeal.

Two of the tree protesters received suspended prison sentences of two months.

Camilleri was fined £100,000 whilst Davies was given a sentence of 12 months immediate imprisonment.

The witness who refused to give evidence was given 12 months imprisonment, reduced to three months on appeal.

The defendant with his repeated outburst was given three- and six-months imprisonment consecutive to each other, and also to the 20 months for the original offences.

The photograph taking offender was given 21 days imprisonment with the defendant who incited the taking of it was given 28 days in prison.

contempt of court

How can we help?

It can be seen that there are some ways to commit contempt of court that the general public may not even realise could land them in trouble with the courts.

We are experts in this area and can advise and represent you.

On some occasions you will be interviewed by the police in relation to an alleged contempt.  If you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about an allegation of contempt of court then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case.  Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

 You can find your nearest office here.

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