Contempt

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By Kelvin Lee

Question of Law

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I CAME across a few issues recently that were tantamount to contempt of court.

What is contempt of court?

The Supreme Court has defined it as "Contempt of court is defined as a disobedience to the Court by acting in opposition to its authority, justice and dignity." (Roxas v. Tipon et al., G.R. No. 160641, 20 June 2012).

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The Supreme Court also explained that Contempt "signifies not only a willful disregard or disobedience of the court's orders, but such conduct which tends to bring the authority of the court and the administration of law into disrepute or in some manner to impede the due administration of justice." (Id)

The Supreme Court goes on further to say that "Contempt of court is a defiance of the authority, justice or dignity of the court; such conduct as tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or to interfere with or prejudice parties-litigant or their witnesses during litigation." (Id).

Essentially there are two forms of contempt of court: (i) Direct Contempt and (ii) indirect contempt.

Direct contempt applies when the contemptuous act is being done "in the presence of, or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same, including disrespect toward the court, offensive personalities toward others, or refusal to be sworn or to answer as a witness, or to subscribe an affidavit or deposition when lawfully required to do so." (Sec. 1, Rule 71, Rules of Court).

On the other hand, indirect contempt applies when the contempt is done not before or near the court. As provided by the Rules of Court, the following are some of the ways indirect contempt may be committed:

"a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt:

(a) Misbehavior of an officer of a court in the performance of his official duties or in his official transactions;

(b) Disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process, order, or judgment of a court, including the act of a person who, after being dispossessed or ejected from any real property by the judgment or process of any court of competent jurisdiction, enters or attempts or induces another to enter into or upon such real property, for the purpose of executing acts of ownership or possession, or in any manner disturbs the possession given to the person adjudged to be entitled thereto;

(c) Any abuse of or any unlawful interference with the processes or proceedings of a court not constituting direct contempt under section 1 of this Rule;

(d) Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice;

(e) Assuming to be an attorney or an officer of a court, and acting as such without authority;

(f) Failure to obey a subpoena duly served;

(g) The rescue, or attempted rescue, of a person or property in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of a court held by him."

The interesting thing about the contempt powers of a Court is that it is usually what is used by judges as the best way to ensure compliance with their lawful orders and to respect the authority of a court. Some government offices which have not been granted contempt powers by law usually seek assistance from courts in order to make non-compliant parties obey. In short, the purpose of contempt powers of a court is to ensure obedience and order.

Unfortunately, some people do not fear the courts nor their contempt powers. Hopefully, this will change.

***

The opinions expressed herein are solely of Atty. Lee. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Atty. Lee at lvlawoffices@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 22, 2014.

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