The Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission Releases Consultation Paper on the Law of Contempt
August 4, 2016
BY Sebastian Ennnis
The Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission recently issued a consultation paper on the law of contempt, including a draft Contempt of Court Bill and draft amendments to the Penal Code.
The law of contempt generally refers to “contempt of court.” But what does that term mean and why might the law surrounding it need to change in the Cayman Islands?
Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed) provides a broad, historic definition of “contempt of court”:
Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct court in administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity. Committed by a person who does any act in willful contravention of its authority or dignity, or tending to impede or frustrate the administration of justice, or by one who, being under the court’s authority as a party to a proceeding therein, willfully disobeys its lawful orders or fails to comply with an undertaking which he has given.
“Expressed at its broadest,” says the Commission, “contempt of court is any act which interferes with or obstructs the due administration of justice whether in relation to particular proceedings or generally.” Yet, the Commission found “examples of circumstances which might be thought to come within that broad definition but have been held not to amount to contempt and vice versa.”
The Commission notes that the definition of contempt remains uncodified, along with the rest of the law as it relates to contempt of court:
Contempt of court is one of the few non-statutory criminal offences in the Islands. It is governed entirely by common law principles, both as to the scope of the offence and the method of disposal, principles which have been developed over the years on a case by case basis. It is also one of the few criminal offences in the Islands for which no maximum penalty, whether by way of imprisonment or fine, is prescribed.
Given the law of contempt’s long history as a solely common law principle, why call for legislative reform now? The Commission provides two reasons:
Two relatively recent developments justified an examination of this branch of the law. The first is the increasing use of the internet as a method of communication, not just on a personal basis but as a means of conveying information to the world at large. For many, the internet has replaced newspapers and broadcasts as their principal source of information. This has brought with it the so-called “citizen journalist.” It has also brought with it one particular aspect of “juror contempt,” that is, the risk that jurors, despite the traditional warning from the judge, will be tempted to “surf the internet” hoping to find some item relevant to the case in respect of which they are jurors.
The second development is the enactment, as Part 1 of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009, of the “Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities.” Sections 7 (Fair Trial) and 11 (Expression) in particular are relevant to any consideration of the present law of contempt.
In light of the impact on the law of internet communications and the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities, the Commission recommends partial codification of the law of contempt and related amendments to the Penal Code. The Commission made nine main recommendations overall.
The public is invited to submit their comments on the consultation paper. Submissions should be made no later than 15 September 2016 and should be posted to Cheryl Neblett, Director, Law Reform Commission, P.O. Box 1999 KY1-1104 or sent by e-mail to [email protected].