Contempt of Court

By 11th July 2021Criminal Law
Contempt of Court

Contempt of court has become the hottest topic in the latest Jacob Zuma saga, following the Constitutional Court’s order against our former President that found Mr Zuma in contempt of court, whereby he is sentenced to 15 months imprisonment. Contempt of court is defined as the willful disobedience to, or disregard of, a court order or any misconduct in the presence of a court. It should be noted that contempt of court does not relate solely to criminal proceedings or criminal behaviour.

Contempt of court may be categorized as civil contempt or criminal contempt. In terms of criminal contempt, dishonour is brought about by the court’s moral authority. In terms of civil contempt, an act of disobedience is displayed.

Contempt of court charges may be levelled against any party to a court proceeding, their legal representatives, witnesses, court officials or personnel, and even individuals not privy to the court proceedings, such as protesters outside a trial. However not every act of disobedience towards a court order results in an offence of contempt of court. Especially in civil proceedings, there are alternative remedies that can be sought other than an order of contempt, it is also advisable in most cases that the alternative remedies should first be exhausted, an example of an alternative remedy in respect of civil proceedings would be to apply for a writ of execution.

The requirements for being in contempt of court are  as follows:

  • there must be a court order;
  • the offender must have knowledge of the court order;
  • the court order must have been served on the person; and
  • there must be non-compliance with the court order. The non-compliance must be intentional and there must be clear evidence of deliberate disobedience by the offender.

When found guilty of being in contempt of court it results in a criminal record. The Courts often exercise caution before an order of contempt is granted, such an order is normally applied as the Court’s last resort. Section 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, states that no person shall be deprived of their freedom arbitrarily or without just cause as well as not being detained without a trial.

Due to the fact that contempt of court is a criminal offence, the onus rests upon the party seeking the order of contempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender’s non-compliance with the court order was a deliberate and intentional attempt to disrespect and impair the dignity of a Court of law.


Should you be served with a court order and you not sure about the appropriate action to take to prevent a possible conviction of being in contempt of court, do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.


Charne Sebonka


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