As from 1 October 2020 Part 81 of the Civil Procedure Rules has been replaced with a wholly new set of rules introducing a simpler procedure with some clearer requirements in relating to open justice .
The rules do not change the substantive law of contempt of court but change the procedure for applications and proceeding in relation to contempt of court.
Some of the terminology used in the rules has been simplified (CPR 81.2):
- The person who makes such an application is called the “claimant” now (rather than “applicant”) and the person against whom it is made (the alleged “contemnor”) is now called the “defendant” rather than “respondent”.
- An application to the court to consider an allegation of contempt of court and to decide whether or not to punish a person for committing it is now called a “contempt application” (rather than a “committal application”).
- If found guilty, such a person may be imprisoned under an “order of committal”.
- “Penal notice” still refers to the prominent notice on a court order, warning people that disobeying or breaching the order may result in being punished for contempt of court.
The new rules set out the procedure for making a contempt application in the High Court or the County Court.
CPR 8.14 sets out requirements for an application (see CPR 8.14(2)(a) to (s) and that it must be supported by written evidence given by affidavit or affirmation.
CPR 81.5 deals with service – which must usually be served personally although if the defendant is represented by a solicitor on the record then, unless the representative objects, they may be served.
CPR 81.6 deals with cases in which no application is made – including contempt in the face of the court.
CPR 81.7 deals with directions for the hearing and determination of the proceedings, including the issue of a bench warrant to secure the defendant’s attendance.
In relation to the hearing of contempt proceedings CPR 81.8 contains provisions about open justice and publicity:
“(1) In accordance with rule 39.2 all hearings of contempt proceedings shall, irrespective of the parties’ consent, be listed and heard in public unless the court otherwise directs. …
(3) Before deciding to sit in private for all or part of the hearing, the court shall notify the national print and broadcast media, via the Press Association
(4) The court shall consider any submissions from the parties or media organisations before deciding whether and if so to what extent the hearing should be in private.
(5) If the court decides to sit in private it shall, before doing so, sit in public to give a reasoned public judgment setting out why it is doing so.
(6) At the conclusion of the hearing, whether or not held in private, the court shall sit in public to give a reasoned public judgment stating its findings and any punishment …
(8) The court shall be responsible for ensuring that judgments in contempt proceedings are transcribed and published on the website of the judiciary of England and Wales
CPR 81.9 makes provision as to the punishment powers of the court if contempt is proved, using a “warrant of committal” (under which the defendant may need to be arrested or their property seized); and as to how the defendant can appeal or apply for the order to be discharged.
The Transparency Project blog makes the following point about the provisions relating to the judiciary website
“it is not clear how permanent a record the Judiciary website is supposed to provide of both anonymity orders and contempt of court judgments which are required to be published there. Recent correspondence with the site’s administrators, concerning the removal of some published judgments including those relating to contempt of court, dating from only five years ago, drew the response that publication on the site was only intended to assist the media at the time of the hearing and not to provide a permanent archive of such rulings. However, it is not clear that this has been anticipated or acknowledged by the rule makers and we think it a matter of public concern that rulings, required to be published under the Rules, may eventually be removed“.