The objective of the law of contempt of court was 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 However, the law is vague in scope, uses outdated language and concepts, and is inaccessible to the New Zealand public.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.”
 For example, Siemer v Solicitor-General  NZCA 62,  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.
Contempt in Modern New Zealand (NZLC IP36, 2014)
The Commission's Issues Paper, Contempt in Modern New Zealand (NZLC IP36, 2014) proposes the codification of the law of contempt and discusses contempt in the face of the court, publication contempt, juror contempt, scandalising the court and civil contempt. The Commission’s proposals are intended to stimulate discussion, with a view to modernising the law and making it accessible to the New Zealand public.
Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court: A Modern Statute - Ko te Whakahou i te Ture mō Te Whawhati Tikanga ki te Kōti: He Ture Ao Hou (NZLC R140, 2017)
The Law Commission has finished its review into the laws of contempt of court.
In its Report Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court: A Modern Statute - Ko te Whakahou i te Ture mō Te Whawhati Tikanga ki te Kōti: He Ture Ao Hou, the Law Commission recommends modernising the laws of contempt of court.
Contempt laws protect the justice system, including a defendant's right to a fair trial.
The law in this area has evolved in a piecemeal fashion throughout its long history, which has resulted in a lack of certainty. Contempt laws are increasingly antiquated and inappropriate in our modern society. They predate the digital-age and need to be updated to address these technological developments.
To reform the law, the Commission has recommended a new statute The Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Act, which will replace old judge-made law with new offences, new enforcement provisions and new processes.
The Law Commission recommends:
- Clearer statutory rules governing the publishing of information on an arrested person’s previous convictions and concurrent charges
- New statutory powers allowing the courts to make temporary suppression orders postponing publication of information that poses a real risk of prejudice to an arrested person’s fair trial.
- A new statutory offence to replace the common law contempt of publishing information where there is a real risk that the publication could prejudice a fair trial.
- A new standardised procedure for dealing with disruptive behaviour in the courts that interrupts proceedings and interferes with a court’s ability to determine the proceedings effectively and efficiently.
- A new offence to replace common law contempt where a member of a jury investigates or researches information which he or she knows is relevant to the case.
- The antiquated contempt of scandalising the court should be abolished.
- A new offence of publishing untrue allegations or accusations against the judiciary when there is a real risk that the publication could undermine public confidence in the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary or courts.
The Government responded to the Commission’s report Reforming the Law of Contempt of Court: A Modern Statute - Ko te Whakahou i te Ture mō te Whawhati Tikanga ki te Kōti: He Ture Ao Hou (NLZC R140, 2017) on 17 August 2017.
Most of the report’s recommendations were implemented in the Contempt of Court Act 2019.