Contempt in the face of the court
3.8The Commission flagged that its wider contempt reference would likely include consideration of issues such as whether the maximum penalty for contempt in the face of the court should be changed and whether a process for hearing contempt applications should be provided by statute or otherwise.
3.9In looking at the procedure for dealing with contempt in the face of the court in the context of contempt procedure generally, the Commission has some unease about the procedure that is often, but not always, utilised by the courts whereby the judge in front of whom the conduct took place deals not only with the immediate disruption by having the relevant person(s) removed from the courtroom and incarcerated until the court rises but punishes the person(s) on the spot also. In this type of situation, the judge is effectively acting as complainant, witness, prosecutor and judge, and the punishment is meted out when there is likely to be a lot of emotion in the courtroom. Further, the defendant’s rights to a lawyer and natural justice under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 may be compromised.
3.10Some District Court Judges are imposing relatively high sentences for contempt in the face of the court cases. A recent example was McAllister v Solicitor-General, where a potential juror was held in contempt and imprisoned for 10 days. On appeal, the High Court found that the District Court Judge had gone too far in punishing the offender. The sentence was quashed and a fine of $750 imposed instead. More recently, in an oral judgment dated 24 March 2014, a District Court Judge imposed a sentence of three weeks’ imprisonment on an offender who refused to face the front of the courtroom and recognise the authority of the judge. These cases have led the Commission to consider whether it might be more appropriate for any contempt in the face of the court provision to specify that the judge may have the disruptive person removed from the court and incarcerated until the court has finished its business for the day but that any further punishment for the disruption be dealt with at another time, possibly by another judge, and with the usual criminal law protections operating.
3.11As the use of other forms for undertaking court hearings, such as via Skype and video conferencing, becomes prevalent and given the summary nature of such hearings, we consider there are practical ways in which another judge could hear this type of procedure.
3.12We envisage that a person convicted on the contempt charge would have a conviction on their criminal record.