Insult of Court – Contempt of Court, the Law Protecting the Court from being Criticized


In the midst of political conflict, the institution of the judiciary continues to exercise its power to interpret the laws, to adjudicate and to rule decisions on cases. However, there have been many cases where those holding power enact laws and implement it to suppress oppositions. The court therefore was pulled to play a part as the law enforcement institution and many times the political actors claimed for their own ligitimacy from the court orders.  
The court has become one of the players in the political conflict, where those with anti establishment political views are prosecuted in court. When discontent arises and the society begins to question the performance of the court, offences of insult of court and contempt of court are used against them to obstruct anti establishment movements and restrict criticism and verbal attack of the Court by people who are politically suppressed. 

What is “insult of court” and “contempt of court”?

The offence of insult of court and contempt of court have similar elements. However, at present they are enacted as part of different laws. The insult of court offence is in section 198 of the Criminal Code. The contempt of court offence is in section 30 and 31 of the Civil Procedure Code. These two provisions allow the court to conduct its adjudication smoothly. 
The objectives of these two sections are to protect the work of the court, to ensure its authority, and to ensure that people respect and comply with its orders.  Furthermore, the sections protect not only the court’s personnel but also plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses and make sure that they feel safe. The sections also prevent judges from being insulted, threatened or physically attacked and as a result it assists with their impartiality. 
Section 198 of the Criminal Code states that “whoever, insults the Court or the judge in the trial or adjudication of the case, or obstructs the trial or adjudication of the Court, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to seven years or fined of two thousand to fourteen thousand Baht, or both.”
The Civil Procedure Code, section 30 states that “The Court shall have the power to give to any party or any third person present in Court such directions as it may think necessary for the maintenance of order within the precincts of the Court and for the fair and speedy carrying out of the trial. Such power includes the power to prohibit the parties from taking any vexatious, dilatory or superfluous proceeding. 
Section 31 of the Civil Procedure Code has enacted the offence for contempt of court as follows:
“Whoever commits any of the following acts shall be said to have committed a contempt of court:
          (1) Whoever refuses to comply with any directions given by the Court under the foregoing section for the maintenance of order or otherwise behaves improperly within the Court’s precincts;
          (2) Whoever having applied for and obtained the Court’s permission to sue or defend in forma pauperis, is found to have instituted a case which he knew to be without foundation or to have falsely stated on oath under section 156 that he has no sufficient property to pay costs; 
          (3) Whoever, knowing that he will be served with a pleading or other documents willfully absents himself or otherwise intentionally evades such service;
          (4) Whoever inspects all or any of the documents contained in the file of a case, or takes or obtains a copy thereof contrary to the provisions of section 54;
          (5) whoever refuses to appear in Court when the Court has given an order according to section 19 or has issued a summons according to section 277.
Section 33 of the Civil Procedure Code sets out sanctions as follows:
          “Where in any Court, any party or person commits contempt of court, such court shall have power to punish them in either or both of the following ways, namely:
          (a) by expulsion from the Court’s precincts, or
          (b) by infliction of imprisonment or fine, or both.
          Expulsion from the Court’s precincts may be for the duration of the sitting or for any such period of time as the Court thinks fit; if necessary, the police may be called upon to assist in such expulsion.
          In case of the penalty involving imprisonment and involving fine, the imprisonment shall not exceed six months, nor shall the fine exceed five hundred baht.”
From the two provisions, we see that the insult of court and contempt of court, have different components. The offence ‘insult of court’ in the Criminal Code is committed when it is conducted against the Court or the judge following his adjudication or proceeding. For example, an accusation that a judge had dinner with one of the parties of the case or the court does not uphold the legal principles in its decision. However, if an insult is made against a judge in his personal capacity and it is not related to the proceeding or judgement, even though he is a judge, this is not an offence of insult of court.
Apart from direct insult through speech and action, other actions such as making noise in the courtroom and obstructing the proceedings or adjudication could also be an insult of court.
On the other hand, an offence of contempt of court could be committed in several ways such as presenting false evidence to have a court fee waived (presenting other false evidence falls into other offences), intentionally avoiding receiving court documents, or not coming to the court following service of a warrant. The law does not explicitly state what type of expression or to what extent a criticism of the court or its work would be considered a contempt of court. However, not complying with court’s rules or misbehaving in the precinct of the court may be a contempt of court. 
Table summarizing behaviors constituting to an offence  
Insult of court (Criminal Code) Contempt of Court (Civil Procedure Code)
1. Insulting the court or the judge for its proceeding or adjudication.  
2. Obstructing the court from conducting its proceeding or adjudication. 
1.Not complying with the court’s rules. 
2. Misbehaving in the precinct of the court
3. Presenting false evidence/ statement to the Court during an inquiry to have the court’s fee waived.   
4. Intentionally avoiding receiving court’s documents 
5. inspecting case file or making a copy without receiving permission from the court
6. Not coming to the court following service of a warrant
The punishment for insult of court is harsher than one of contempt of court
The punishment for people guilty of insult of court in section 198 of the Criminal Code is that he or she shall be imprisoned for 1-7 years or fined 2,000-14,000 Baht or both.
While in the Civil Procedural Code section 33 states that if a person is found guilty of contempt of court, the court may order to expel him from the precinct during the duration when it is presiding or order to imprison him for six months or fine him for not more than 500 Baht or both.
It should be noted that the punishment for insult of court is harsher than one of contempt of court. For the latter, the court may give a warning to give another chance to that person, or the court may expel him from the precinct without fining or imprisoning the person.
Table summarizing the penalty
Penalty Insult of court (Criminal Code) Contempt of Court
(Civil Procedure Code)
imprisonment 1-7 years Not more than 6 months
fine  2,000-14,000 baht Not more than 500 baht
both imprisonment and fine / /
Expel from the court’s precinct x /
The court witnesses the incident could make immediate decision; special power by the law of contempt of court. 
Section 33 of the Civil Procedure Code stating the penalty for a contempt of court specifies that “Where in any Court, any party or person commits contempt of court, the court shall have power to punish them in either or both of the following ways…”. The fact that the section is written in this manner grants full power to the court. Whenever a contempt of court is committed before the court, the court may punish that person immediately without having to inquire or to give the defendant an opportunity to defend the case. 
This kind of special power is contained only for an offence of contempt of court. For other offences in any law, a person could be found guilty and punished only when following a trial. The process commences when a victim reports the incident to the police who will investigate the facts. The police will then interrogate witnesses or suspects. Prosecutors will also consider whether to prosecute the case. Once the case reaches the court, the court will make an inquiry and examine witnesses before the defendant. The defendant has rights to deny and defend the case fully; for example, he has rights to have a lawyer, to present evidence to prove his innocence or claim for a penalty mitigation or impunity. For an offence of insult of court before the court punishes anyone, it has to follow this process.
Nevertheless, for an offence of contempt of court, special power has been granted to the court because it is specified in the Civil Procedure Code and it is not an offence in the Criminal Code. The purpose of this offence is to allow the proceeding and adjudication to run smoothly. Since one of the elements is that an offence is committed before the court and in its sight, the law grants the power to the court to order punishment immediately in order not to waste time. Nonetheless, in practice, if an offence is not committed before the court, the judge may call witnesses to examine until he can establish the adequate facts to make a decision.
Supreme Court decision no. 4617/2547(2004) has confirmed the principle that an offence of contempt of court is an offence committed against the court. When it appears to the court that a contempt of court takes place, it does not matter that it was committed before the court or if the court learns about it from other evidence. The court may order to have that person punished immediately. The incident does not need to be reported to the police. The court powers to establish the facts and not having to follow normal process and does not have to conduct the procedure before the defendant as normal criminal cases.
Supreme Court decision no 635/2559 (2016) has ruled that an inquiry for a contempt of court offence is not a general criminal trial proceeding. The provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code may not be used in a procedure under the Civil Procedure Code. Contempt of court is a special provision; there is no need to inquire whether an accused has a lawyer. The inquiry is not a witness examination; it is solely a fact inquiry; an accused does not need to swear under oath. 
Supreme Court’s decisions on insult of court and contempt of court
Below are examples of how the Supreme Court interprets and lays out punishment for insult of court and contempt of court. 
Supreme Court’s decisions on the action of “insult of court”
In Decision no. 1456/2506 a lawyer said to another person that “I can’t believe that the case is with this old person. “This old person” means judge. 
2 month-imprisonment; however, after he confessed, the imprisonment term was reduced to 1 month. 
In Decision no. 1124/2507 a complaint was made to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice that the judge went for dinner with the complainant after reading of decision. 
2 year-imprisonment
The decision of the Provincial Court of Pranakorn Sri Ayutthaya in the case of Kuntat posting on Facebook that “the Court serves the capitalist”.   Awaiting the imposition of penalty for up to two years.
Supreme Court’s decisions on the action of “contempt of court” 
Action Punishment
In Decision no. 5714/2559 a flower wreath with a statement was placed in front of the Civil Court and shout injustice in the case of Sudsa-nguan. 2 months-imprisonment; however, after he confessed, it was reduced to 1 month.
In Decision no. 1821/2557 an interview was given to the media that the decision of the court was influenced by Taksin, former prime minister. 
1 month-imprisonment with 3 year suspension and fined 500 Baht.
In Decision no. 8005/2551 a declaration was made claiming that the judge did not perform correctly, in good faith and injustice resulted.  6 month-imprisonment with suspension and fined 500 Baht. 
In Decision no. 1447/2551 prevented another person to come and testify before the court according to a warrant.  Fined 500 Baht
In Decision no. 5100/2543 carried a heavy weapon in the court’s precinct.  2 month-imprisonment
In Decision no. 5615/2543 a person brought methamphetamine to a detention room.  2 month-imprisonment
In Decision no.  5462/2539  asked for money from an accused, claiming that it would be given to prosecutors and judges.  3 month-imprisonment
Having considered the trend of the Supreme Court’s decisions, we have found that many decisions on insult of court state that insult of court occurred via speech or written statement. Such speech or written statement were considered as destroy reputation of the court and as a consequence the court is insulted and hated. On the other hand, many decisions of the Supreme Court have stated that examples of contempt of court are creating disturbance and violating the court’s order as listed in the table.
However, it does not mean that a speech or writing criticism of the performance of the court would not constitute an offence of contempt of court. The Freedom of Expression Documentation Center by iLaw has documented information about the use of the law to restrict freedom of expression. We have found many cases concerning many people who have expressed opinions and vented that they have been repressed under judicial process and who have been punished for an offence of insult of court and contempt of court. Please find below examples of the cases. 
Sudsa-nguan was accused in 2014 that he brought more than one hundred people to gather in front of the Civil Court in order to protest its decision invoking the Emergency Act. They placed a flower wreath and displayed written statements. The Supreme Court ruled that the case was a contempt of court and ordered one month-imprisonment. The Court was of the opinion that Sudsa-nguan, a law professor, brought the group of people to pressure the Court and this could be considered a sabotage of the institution of the court. This action could deprive the court of its impartiality as it may be pressured to follow the mood of the parties. This could lead to trouble and the law not being respected. The Court found that the behavior of Sudsa-gnuan is bold and does not show respect for the law.
Nattapol was accused of having spray-painted an alphabet A in a circle, which could be understood as an anarchy symbol, on the Criminal Court’s signage. The Criminal Court ruled that such action is considered a misbehavior in the court’s precinct and is a contempt of court. He was ordered to be imprisoned for one month; however, after he repented; the sentence was suspended for one year. 
Kuntat was prosecuted by the prosecutor of the Provincial Court of Pranakorn Sri Ayutthaya after he did not come to the court as scheduled. He was accused of having posted a statement on Facebook that the court lacked credibility and justice for the proceeding which was an offence of insult of court and breach of the Computer Act. The Provincial Court of Pranakorn Sri Ayutthaya found him guilty, suspended his sentence for two years and had his behavior probated.
Article type: