New Practice Direction on Committal for Contempt of Court

Sarah Speller

On 26 March 2015, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, issued a new Practice Direction on Committal for Contempt of Court. The Practice Direction, which is expressed as applying to all proceedings for committal for contempt of court, explains how the principle of open justice (the general rule that hearings should take place and judgments be given in public) applies to committal proceedings. In doing so, it lays down strict rules designed to ensure open justice.

The starting point in the Practice Direction is that all committal hearings shall be listed and heard in public. This is regardless of whether the hearing results from an application by one of the parties or the court’s own initiative, and whether it is for contempt in the face of the court or any other form of contempt (such as breach of an injunction).

Where the court is considering holding a committal hearing in private, or otherwise derogating from the principle of open justice, the Practice Direction contains specific notice provisions. In such cases, the national print and broadcast media must be notified of the committal hearing and the “the nature of the proposed derogation” must be disclosed. At the outset of the committal hearing, the court must also hear submissions from the parties/media on the question of whether to impose the proposed derogation. In cases where the court decides to hold a committal hearing in private, it is required to give a reasoned public judgment saying why it is doing so. Such orders should not be granted by consent. It should be noted that the Practice Direction establishes that the fact that the committal hearing is made in the Court of Protection or in proceedings relating to a child does not, of itself, justify the matter being heard in private.

In all cases, irrespective whether or not the hearing was in private or public, if a finding of contempt is made then the court should make a public statement stating the name of the person, the nature of the contempt, the punishment being imposed and provide these details for publication in the national media via the Press Association’s CopyDirect service and to the Judicial Office. There are no exceptions to these requirements.

The Practice Direction is expressed to supplement the rules on contempt set out in the Civil Procedure Rules, the Court of Protection Rules, the Family Procedure Rules and the Criminal Procedure Rules. It supersedes the previous guidance on committal given in 2013 (Practice Guidance on Committal for Contempt [2013] 1 WLR 1326; Practice Guidance (Committal Proceedings: Open Court) (No. 2) [2013] 1 WLR 1753 and President’s Circular: Committals (Family Court Practice 2024, at 2976)).

Sarah Speller and Hannah Brash (Work Placement Scheme intern)

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