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Practice Direction: Committal for Contempt of Court, Open Court

Lord ThomasThe Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has issued a new “Practice Direction: Committal for Contempt of Court – Open Court” [pdf] which applies to all courts in England and Wales.  it introduces strict rules designed to ensure open justice, providing that all committal hearings “shall be listed and heard in public” [5].

The Practice Direction sets out the procedure for listing committal applications: requiring the public court list to specify the full names of the applicant and of the person alleged to be in contempt [6(2)].

Where it is not possible to publish the details of the hearing in the public court list notice should be given to national print and broadcast media [6[3]).

The Practice Direction contains specific provisions for notice where consideration is being given to holding a committal hearing in private:

“Where the court, either on application or otherwise, is considering derogating from the general rule and holding a committal hearing in private, or imposing any other such derogation from the principle of open justice:

(1) it shall in all cases before the hearing takes place, notify the national print and broadcast media, via the Press Association’s CopyDirect service, of the fact of the committal hearing (whether it is brought on application or otherwise) when and where it is listed for hearing, and the nature of the proposed derogation; and

(2) at the outset of the committal hearing the court shall hear submissions from the parties and/or the media on the question whether to impose the proposed derogation”. [8]

The Practice Direction goes on to make it clear 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

“Moreover the fact that the hearing may involve the disclosure of material which ought not to be published does not of itself justify hearing the application in private if such publication can be restrained by an appropriate order“. [9]

Where a court decides to hold a committal hearing in private it shall, before it continues to do so, give reasoned public judgment saying why it is doing so.  Such orders should not be granted by consent.

In all cases, whether or not the hearing was in private, 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 CopyDirect service and to the Judicial Office.

In addition, in all committal decisions the court must produce a written judgment setting out its reasons or ensure that an oral judgment is transcribed on an expedited basis.

The Practice Direction applies to all proceedings for committal for contempt of court and to all civil and criminal courts in England and Wales, including the Court of Protection, and supersedes the previous relevant practice directions.

1 Comment

  1. Methusalada

    Thank goodness for Lord Thomas’s ruling !

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