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Contempt (also called contempt of court) is a court ruling which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, deems an individual as having been disrespectful of the court, its process, and its invested powers.
Often stated simply as "in contempt" or a person "held in contempt," it is the highest remedy of a judge to impose sanctions on an individual for acts which excessively or in a wanton manner disrupt the normal process of a court hearing.
A finding of contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behavior, or publication of material deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court. Typically judges in common law systems have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.
In civil cases involving relations between private citizens, the intended victim of the act of contempt is usually the party for whose benefit the ruling was implemented, rather than the court itself.
A person found in contempt of court is called a "contemnor." To prove contempt, the prosecutor or complainant must prove the four elements of contempt. These are
- existence of a lawful order
- the contemnor's knowledge of the order
- the contemnor's ability to comply
- the contemnor's failure to comply.