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CONTEMPT OF COURT ACT 1981

UK Public General Acts

Version 27/05/2016

1981 CHAPTER 49

Default Geographical Extent: E+W+S+N.I.


  • Strict liability
  • Other aspects of law and procedure
  • Penalties for contempt and kindred offences
  • Supplemental
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Introductory Text

Contempt of Court Act 1981

1981 CHAPTER 49

An Act to amend the law relating to contempt of court and related matters.

[27th July 1981]

Annotations:

Modifications etc. (not altering text)

C1 By Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c. 53, SIF 39:1), s. 101(1), Sch. 12 para. 23; S.I. 1991/2208, art. 2(1), Sch. 1 it is provided (14.10.1991) that in relation to any time before the commencement of s. 70 of that 1991 Act (which came into force on 1.10.1992 by S.I. 1992/333, art. 2(2), Sch. 2) references in any enactment amended by that 1991 Act, to youth courts shall be construed as references to juvenile courts.

Commencement Information

I1 Act not in force at Royal Assent. Act partly in force at 27.8.1981 see s.21(2)(3).


Strict liability


1 The strict liability rule.

In this Act “the strict liability rule” means the rule of law whereby conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so.

2 Limitation of scope of strict liability.

(1) The strict liability rule applies only in relation to publications, and for this purpose “publication” includes any speech, writing, [F1 programme included in a cable programme service] or other communication in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public.

(2) The strict liability rule applies only to a publication which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced.

(3) The strict liability rule applies to a publication only if the proceedings in question are active within the meaning of this section at the time of the publication.

(4) Schedule 1 applies for determining the times at which proceedings are to be treated as active within the meaning of this section.

[F2 (5) In this section “programme service” has the same meaning as in the Broadcasting Act 1990.]

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F1 Words substituted by Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42, SIF 96), s. 203(1), Sch. 20 para. 31(1)(a): words were previously added by Broadcasting Act 1984 (c. 46 SIF 96), s. 57(1), Sch. 5 para. 39(1)

F2 S. 2(5) inserted by Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42, SIF 96), s. 203(1), Sch. 20, para. 31(1)(b)


3 Defence of innocent publication or distribution.

(1) A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the publisher of any matter to which that rule applies if at the time of publication (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know and has no reason to suspect that relevant proceedings are active.

(2) A person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule as the distributor of a publication containing any such matter if at the time of distribution (having taken all reasonable care) he does not know that it contains such matter and has no reason to suspect that it is likely to do so.

(3) The burden of proof of any fact tending to establish a defence afforded by this section to any person lies upon that person.

(4) F3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F3 S. 3(4) repealed (22.7.2004) by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2004 (c. 14), Sch. 1 Pt. 1 Group 4


4 Contemporary reports of proceedings.

(1) Subject to this section a person is not guilty of contempt of court under the strict liability rule in respect of a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith.

(2) In any such proceedings the court may, where it appears to be necessary for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings, or in any other proceedings pending or imminent, order that the publication of any report of the proceedings, or any part of the proceedings, be postponed for such period as the court thinks necessary for that purpose.

[F4 (2A) Where in proceedings for any offence which is an administration of justice offence for the purposes of section 54 of the M1 Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (acquittal tainted by an administration of justice offence) it appears to the court that there is a possibility that (by virtue of that section) proceedings may be taken against a person for an offence of which he has been acquitted, subsection (2) of this section shall apply as if those proceedings were pending or imminent. ]

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section F5 . . . a report of proceedings shall be treated as published contemporaneously—

(a) in the case of a report of which publication is postponed pursuant to an order under subsection (2) of this section, if published as soon as practicable after that order expires;
[F6 (b) in the case of a report of allocation or sending proceedings of which publication is permitted by virtue only of subsection (6) of section 52A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (“ the 1998 Act ”) , if published as soon as practicable after publication is so permitted;
(c) in the case of a report of an application of which publication is permitted by virtue only of sub-paragraph (5) or (7) of paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the 1998 Act, if published as soon as practicable after publication is so permitted.]
(4) F7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F4 S. 4(2A) inserted (E.W.,N.I.) (4.7.1996 with effect as mentioned in s. 54(4)(7)(8) of the amending Act) by 1996 c. 25, ss. 54(4)(7)(8), 57(3) (with s. 78(1)); S.I. 1997/1504

F5 Words in s. 4(3) repealed (4.9.1996 so far as consequential on ss. 1, 5, 6, 12, 13, 16 of the repealing Act and 1.4.1999 so far as consequential on ss. 14, 15, 17, Sch. 1 of the repealing Act and 28.2.2000 (E.W.) so far as not already in force and 31.3.2001 (S.) so far as not already in force and 6.1.2010 (N.I.) so far as not already in force) by 1996 c. 31, s. 16 {Sch. 2} (with s. 20(2)); S.I. 1999/817, art. 2(b); S.I. 2000/222, art. 3(b); S.S.I. 2001/98, art. 3(a)(b)(i); S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(d)

F6 S. 4(3)(b)(c) substituted for s. 4(3)(b) (18.6.2012) by Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44), s. 336(3)(4), Sch. 3 para. 53; S.I. 2012/1320, art. 3(d)(iv) (with art. 6(2))

F7 S. 4(4) repealed (22.7.2004) by Statute Law (Repeals) Act 2004 (c. 14), Sch. 1 Pt. 1 Group 4

Marginal Citations

M1 1996 c. 00.


5 Discussion of public affairs.

A publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion.

6 Savings.

Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Act—

(a) prejudices any defence available at common law to a charge of contempt of court under the strict liability rule;
(b) implies that any publication is punishable as contempt of court under that rule which would not be so punishable apart from those provisions;
(c) restricts liability for contempt of court in respect of conduct intended to impede or prejudice the administration of justice.

7 Consent required for institution of proceedings. (E+W+N.I.)

Proceedings for a contempt of court under the strict liability rule (other than Scottish proceedings) shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney General or on the motion of a court having jurisdiction to deal with it.

Other aspects of law and procedure


8 Confidentiality of jury’s deliberations[F8 : Scotland and Northern Ireland] .

[F9 (1) [F10 In Scotland and Northern Ireland,] Subject to subsection (2) below, it is a contempt of court to obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in any legal proceedings.

(2) This section does not apply to any disclosure of any particulars—

(a) in the proceedings in question for the purpose of enabling the jury to arrive at their verdict, or in connection with the delivery of that verdict, or
(b) in evidence in any subsequent proceedings for an offence alleged to have been committed in relation to the jury in the first mentioned proceedings,
or to the publication of any particulars so disclosed.
(3) Proceedings for a contempt of court under this section (other than Scottish proceedings) shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney General or on the motion of a court having jurisdiction to deal with it.]

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F8 Words in s. 8 heading inserted (13.4.2015) by Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (c. 2), ss. 74(4), 95(1); S.I. 2015/778, art. 3, Sch. 1 para. 59 (with Sch. 2 para. 4(a))

F9 S. 8 repealed (E.W.) (13.4.2015) by Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (c. 2), ss. 74(2), 95(1); S.I. 2015/778, art. 3, Sch. 1 para. 59 (with Sch. 2 para. 4(a))

F10 Words in s. 8(1) inserted (S.N.I.) (13.4.2015) by Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (c. 2), ss. 74(3), 95(1); S.I. 2015/778, art. 3, Sch. 1 para. 59 (with Sch. 2 para. 4(a))


9 Use of tape recorders.

(1) Subject to subsection (4) below, it is a contempt of court—

(a) to use in court, or bring into court for use, any tape recorder or other instrument for recording sound, except with the leave of the court;
(b) to publish a recording of legal proceedings made by means of any such instrument, or any recording derived directly or indirectly from it, by playing it in the hearing of the public or any section of the public, or to dispose of it or any recording so derived, with a view to such publication;
(c) to use any such recording in contravention of any conditions of leave granted under paragraph (a).
[F11 (d) to publish or dispose of any recording in contravention of any conditions of leave granted under subsection (1A).]
[F12 (1A) In the case of a recording of Supreme Court proceedings, subsection (1) (b) does not apply to its publication or disposal with the leave of the Court.]

(2) Leave under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) [F13 , or under subsection (1A) ,] may be granted or refused at the discretion of the court, and [F14 if granted—

(a) may, in the case of leave under subsection (1) (a) ,]
be granted subject to such conditions as the court thinks proper with respect to the use of any recording made pursuant to the leave and;
[F15 (b) may, in the case of leave under subsection (1A) , be granted subject to such conditions as the Supreme Court thinks proper with respect to publication or disposal of any recording to which the leave relates; and]
where leave has been granted the court may at the like discretion withdraw or amend it either generally or in relation to any particular part of the proceedings.

(3) Without prejudice to any other power to deal with an act of contempt under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) , the court may order the instrument, or any recording made with it, or both, to be forfeited; and any object so forfeited shall (unless the court otherwise determines on application by a person appearing to be the owner) be sold or otherwise disposed of in such manner as the court may direct.

(4) This section does not apply to the making or use of sound recordings for purposes of official transcripts of proceedings.

[F16 (5) See section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for power to provide for further exceptions.]

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F11 S. 9(1)(d) inserted (25.6.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 31(4), 61(6)

F12 S. 9(1A) inserted (25.6.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 31(2), 61(6)

F13 Words in s. 9(2) inserted (25.6.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 31(3)(a), 61(6)

F14 Words in s. 9(2) substituted (25.6.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 31(3)(b), 61(6)

F15 S. 9(2)(b) and word inserted (25.6.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 31(3)(c), 61(6)

F16 S. 9(5) inserted (E.W.) (15.7.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 32(8), 61(3); S.I. 2013/1725, art. 2(f)

Modifications etc. (not altering text)

C2 S. 9: power to exclude conferred (E.W.) (15.7.2013) by Crime and Courts Act 2013 (c. 22), ss. 32(1)(2)(b), 61(3) (with s. 32(6)); S.I. 2013/1725, art. 2(f)

C3 S. 9 excluded (E.W.) (30.10.2013) by The Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2013 (S.I. 2013/2786), arts. 1, 4

C4 S. 9 excluded (E.W.) (27.5.2016) by The Crown Court (Recording) Order 2016 (S.I. 2016/612), arts. 1, 4 (with art. 3)


10 Sources of information.

No court may require a person to disclose, nor is any person guilty of contempt of court for refusing to disclose, the source of information contained in a publication for which he is responsible, unless it be established to the satisfaction of the court that disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime.

11 Publication of matters exempted from disclosure in court.

In any case where a court (having power to do so) allows a name or other matter to be withheld from the public in proceedings before the court, the court may give such directions prohibiting the publication of that name or matter in connection with the proceedings as appear to the court to be necessary for the purpose for which it was so withheld.

12 Offences of contempt of magistrates’ courts. (E+W+N.I.)

(1) A magistrates’ court has jurisdiction under this section to deal with any person who—

(a) wilfully insults the justice or justices, any witness before or officer of the court or any solicitor or counsel having business in the court, during his or their sitting or attendance in court or in going to or returning from the court; or
(b) wilfully interrupts the proceedings of the court or otherwise misbehaves in court.
(2) In any such case the court may order any officer of the court, or any constable, to take the offender into custody and detain him until the rising of the court; and the court may, if it thinks fit, commit the offender to custody for a specified period not exceeding one month or impose on him a fine not exceeding [F17 £2,500] , or both.

[F18 (2A) A fine imposed under subsection (2) above shall be deemed, for the purposes of any enactment, to be a sum adjudged to be paid by a conviction.]

(3). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . F19

(4) A magistrates’ court may at any time revoke an order of committal made under subsection (2) and, if the offender is in custody, order his discharge.

(5) [F20 Section 135 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (limit on fines in respect of young persons) and] The following provisions of the M2 Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 apply in relation to an order under this section as they apply in relation to a sentence on conviction or finding of guilty of an offence [F21 ; and those provisions of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 are] sections 75 to 91 (enforcement) ; section 108 (appeal to Crown Court) ; section 136 (overnight detention in default of payment) ; and section 142(1) (power to rectify mistakes).

Annotations:

Extent Information

E1 In its application to Northern Ireland, s. 12 has effect as set out in Sch. 4, see s. 18

Amendments (Textual)

F17 Words in s. 12(2) substituted (E.W.) (1.10.1992) by Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c. 53, SIF 39:1), ss. 17(3), 102(2), Sch. 4 Pt. I (with s. 28); S.I. 1992/333, art. 2(2), Sch. 2.

F18 S. 12(2A) inserted (E.W.) (1.10.1992) by Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c. 53, SIF 39:1), s. 17(3), Sch. 4 Pt. V (with s. 28); S.I. 1992/333, art. 2(2), Sch. 2 and substituted (E.W.)(20.9.1993) by 1993 c. 36, s. 65(3), Sch. 3 para. 6(4); S.I. 1993/1968, art. 2(2), Sch. 2.

F19 S. 12(3) repealed by Criminal Justice Act 1982 (c. 48, SIF 39:1), s. 78, Sch. 16

F20 Words in s. 12(5) inserted (25.8.2000) by 2000 c. 6, ss. 165(1), 168(1), Sch. 9 para. 83(a)

F21 Words in s. 12(5) substituted (25.8.2000) by 2000 c. 6, ss. 165(1), 168(1), Sch. 9 para. 83(b)

Modifications etc. (not altering text)

C5 S. 12(2): power to amend conferred (E.W.) by Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (c. 43, SIF 82), s. 143(2)(f), Sch. 6A as inserted by Criminal Justice Act 1982 (c. 48, SIF 39:1), Sch. 5 and substituted (1.10.1992) by Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c. 53, SIF 39:1), s. 17(3), Sch. 4 Pt. IV (with s. 28); S.I. 1992/333, art. 2(2), Sch. 2.

C6 S. 12(2) amended (E.W.) (1.10.1992) by Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c. 53, SIF 39:1), s. 100, Sch. 11 para. 29(1)(2); S.I. 1992/333, art. 2(2), Sch. 2.

Marginal Citations

M2 1980 c. 43.