Contempt of Court

Start date
11 April 2013
Commissioner
The Hon Douglas White QC
Status
Awaiting Government Response
Project contact
Jo Dinsdale
Phone
04 473 3453
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Project Overview

The objective of the law of contempt of court is to protect the integrity of the justice system and a defendant’s right to a fair trial. However, the law is vague in scope, uses outdated language and concepts, and is inaccessible to the New Zealand public. It was developed prior to the Internet Age and the enactment of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Most of the law of contempt is common law (law made by the courts), but parts of it that deal with conduct in court and specific offences relating to the administration of justice, such as perjury, are contained in statutes.  

In recent times, New Zealand’s senior courts have commented on the difficulties of reconciling some aspects of the law of contempt with the Bill of Rights Act, suggesting that “consideration should be given to legislative reform in this area of the law as happened in the United Kingdom.”1

1 For example, Siemer v Solicitor-General [2009] NZCA 62, [2009] 2 NZLR 556

Terms of Reference 

The Commission will undertake a first principles review of the law of contempt of court and make recommendations to ensure the law is appropriate for modern New Zealand, taking into account:

  • the rights and freedoms recognised in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990;
  • the development of the internet and new media; and
  • the need for the laws of New Zealand to be as understandable and accessible to the public as possible.

The review will consider whether the common law of contempt should be further amended or replaced by statutory provisions.  In particular, it will include an examination of:

  • contempt by publication, including the dissemination of information by members of the public via social media;
  • juror contempt (for example jurors undertaking Google research or disclosing jury deliberations);
  • the contempt known as “scandalising the court”;
  • civil contempt/enforcement of court orders; and
  • other contempts relating to interference with the administration of justice.