Contempt of court disciplines course of justice, not coerce cooperation

Distinguishing the grounds of contempt of court for litigants and media persons, Thimphu district court’s judge for commercial bench, Pema Rinzin, said there is no specific definition for the act but grounds on which it could be invoked.

He cited the provisions of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan (CCPC) and the Penal Code of Bhutan and explained that contempt of court could be an act of disobedience or disrespect toward a court or court official or interference with its orderly process for which a summary punishment is usually given.

The drangpon, presenting on the contempt of court and its misconception to media practitioners during the law and media consultative workshop organised by the Bhutan National Law Institute (BNLI) and Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB), emphasised that reporting fairly without bias will not amount to contempt of court.

He said that public misuse the term to criticise judges although it is seldom used. “There is a misconception that contempt of court empowers judges and it is used as a threat to coerce cooperation and punish criticism.”

Drangpon Pema Rinzin said there is a malicious intent when people associate contempt of court with court officials, as it is intended to malign the reputation of the judge who is presiding over a case or has rendered the judgment in favour of the other party to discredit the judge and the institution. “Contempt of court is just to discipline for the smooth functioning of the courtroom.”

He explained that as much as the media has the right to information, it also has the right to inform correctly. “Every Bhutanese has the right to information and media professionals have the duty to provide information but within the bounds of law.”

The drangpon said that media, as the fourth estate, is a powerful and useful medium if used responsibly. “Right to information should be exercised responsibly and not misused.”

He cited section 102.1 of the CCPC, which states that a person may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction in accordance with the laws of contempt for interfering with a case, either orally or in writing, failing to comply appropriately to the judicial order or otherwise obstructing the course of justice.

“This section will apply to media practitioners,” he said. “A media person, through prejudices because your family and friends are involved, obstruct the course of justice by writing or broadcasting.”

He also said that media trial could misinform the public and mislead to wrong perception without proper understanding of the facts.  “Biased reporting, both personal and institutional bias, could mislead the information or twist facts during the pendency of case.”

Judiciary officials said media houses should have dedicated reporters with law background to report on court cases.

Meanwhile, Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, at the inaugural session, highlighted that while the Constitution grants freedom of expression, it is must that the right be exercised not for individual gain but to promote peace and security in the country. “Media and judiciary should work together for national interest.”

Tashi Dema

The Civil & Criminal Procedure Code Of Bhutan 2001

Section 5 

Non-interference

The Courts shall decide matters before it impartially on the basis of fact and in accordance with the rule of law.

Therefore, any attempt to influence or interference from public or media will amount to unlawful interference.

S/41 

Failure to answer a service of Process or Summons- results in contempt and may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction or fine.

S/102 

A person showing disrespect to the Court during Court proceedings may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction in accordance with the laws of contempt.

S/102.1

A person may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction in accordance with the laws of contempt for:

Interfering with a case, either orally or in writing;

Failing to comply appropriately to the judicial order; or

Otherwise obstructing the course of justice.

S/103

Failure to Adhere to Hearing Schedule

Failure of a party to a case to adhere to the hearing schedule may result in a finding of contempt and may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction.

S/104 

Non-compliance with Judicial Orders

Non-compliance with judicial orders may result in a finding of contempt and subject to civil or criminal sanction.

S/105 

Failure to Appear

Where a person summoned fails to appear or present evidence at the order of the Court, he/she may be found in contempt of court and may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction.

S/106 

Absence without leave

Once the hearing of a case has begun, if the litigant or other person summoned by the court takes leave of absence without the permission of the court, he/she may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction for contempt.

S/107

Civil Contempt

An aggrieved party may initiate civil contempt proceedings.

(Such situation arises when the judgment debtor fails to pay judgment debt as ordered in the judgment)

S/107.1 Finding of civil contempt shall result in fine/imprisonment until the civil order has been complied with. However, for the monetary case the person shall be imprisoned for a number of years calculated based on value based sentencing.

PENAL CODE OF BHUTAN 2004

S/367 

Contempt of court

A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of contempt of court, if the defendant:

Has been served with a court order and fails to comply without any reasonable cause;

Purposely interferes with or interrupts a legal proceeding including a failure to respond to a court directed inquiry, makes a public outburst, an antagonistic comment or directs a threat at a judicial official or person present in the courtroom, or engages in acts demonstrating a lack of driglam namsha befitting the court; or

Refuses to abide or obey a direction rendered by the court.

S/368

Grading of contempt of court

The offence of contempt of court shall be a petty misdemeanour except that the court may extend the period of imprisonment until the defendant complies with the court order that is the subject of the contempt.

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