Special Civil Actions Initiated by Complaint: Contempt

Lorenzo Shipping Corp. vs. Distribution Management Association of the Philippines (GR 155849)

Contempt of Court: Concept and Classes

Justice Bersamin:

Contempt of court has been defined as a willful disregard or disobedience of a public authority. In its broad sense, contempt is a disregard of, or disobedience to, the rules or orders of a legislative or judicial body or an interruption of its proceedings by disorderly behavior or insolent language in its presence or so near thereto as to disturb its proceedings or to impair the respect due to such a body. In its restricted and more usual sense, contempt comprehends a despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of a court. The phrase contempt of court is generic, embracing within its legal signification a variety of different acts.

The power to punish for contempt is inherent in all courts, and need not be specifically granted by statute. It lies at the core of the administration of a judicial system. Indeed, there ought to be no question that courts have the power by virtue of their very creation to impose silence, respect, and decorum in their presence, submission to their lawful mandates, and to preserve themselves and their officers from the approach and insults of pollution. The power to punish for contempt essentially exists for the preservation of order in judicial proceedings and for the enforcement of judgments, orders, and mandates of the courts, and, consequently, for the due administration of justice. The reason behind the power to punish for contempt is that respect of the courts guarantees the stability of their institution; without such guarantee, the institution of the courts would be resting on a very shaky foundation.

Contempt of court is of two kinds, namely: direct contempt, which is committed in the presence of or so near the judge as to obstruct him in the administration of justice; and constructive or indirect contempt, which consists of willful disobedience of the lawful process or order of the court.

The punishment for the first is generally summary and immediate, and no process or evidence is necessary because the act is committed in facie curiae. The inherent power of courts to punish contempt of court committed in the presence of the courts without further proof of facts and without aid of a trial is not open to question, considering that this power is essential to preserve their authority and to prevent the administration of justice from falling into disrepute; such summary conviction and punishment accord with due process of law. There is authority for the view, however, that an act, to constitute direct contempt punishable by summary proceeding, need not be committed in the immediate presence of the court, if it tends to obstruct justice or to interfere with the actions of the court in the courtroom itself. Also, contemptuous acts committed out of the presence of the court, if admitted by the contemnor in open court, may be punished summarily as a direct contempt, although it is advisable to proceed by requiring the person charged to appear and show cause why he should not be punished when the judge is without personal knowledge of the misbehavior and is informed of it only by a confession of the contemnor or by testimony under oath of other persons.

In contrast, the second usually requires proceedings less summary than the first. The proceedings for the punishment of the contumacious act committed outside the personal knowledge of the judge generally need the observance of all the elements of due process of law, that is, notice, written charges, and an opportunity to deny and to defend such charges before guilt is adjudged and sentence imposed.

Plainly, therefore, the word summary with respect to the punishment for contempt refers not to the timing of the action with reference to the offense but to the procedure that dispenses with the formality, delay, and digression that result from the issuance of process, service of complaint and answer, holding hearings, taking evidence, listening to arguments, awaiting briefs, submission of findings, and all that goes with a conventional court trial.

A distinction between in-court contempts, which disrupt court proceedings and for which a hearing and formal presentation of evidence are dispensed with, and out-of-court contempts, which require normal adversary procedures, is drawn for the purpose of prescribing what procedures must attend the exercise of a courts authority to deal with contempt. The distinction does not limit the ability of courts to initiate contempt prosecutions to the summary punishment of in-court contempts that interfere with the judicial process.

The court may proceed upon its own knowledge of the facts without further proof and without issue or trial in any form to punish a contempt

committed directly under its eye or within its view. But there must be adequate facts to support a summary order for contempt in the presence of the court. The exercise of the summary power to imprison for contempt is a delicate one and care is needed to avoid arbitrary or oppressive conclusions. The reason for the extraordinary power to punish criminal contempt in summary proceedings is that the necessities of the administration of justice require such summary dealing with obstructions to it, being a mode of vindicating the majesty of the law, in its active manifestation, against obstruction and outrage.

Proceedings for contempt are sui generis, in nature criminal, but may be resorted to in civil as well as criminal actions, and independently of any action. They are of two classes, the criminal or punitive, and the civil or remedial. A criminal contempt consists in conduct that is directed against the authority and dignity of a court or of a judge acting judicially, as in unlawfully assailing or discrediting the authority and dignity of the court or judge, or in doing a duly forbidden act. A civil contempt consists in the failure to do something ordered to be done by a court or judge in a civil case for the benefit of the opposing party therein. It is at times difficult to determine whether the proceedings are civil or criminal. In general, the character of the contempt of whether it is criminal or civil is determined by the nature of the contempt involved, regardless of the cause in which the contempt arose, and by the relief sought or dominant purpose.

The proceedings are to be regarded as criminal when the purpose is primarily punishment, and civil when the purpose is primarily compensatory or remedial. Where the dominant purpose is to enforce compliance with an order of a court for the benefit of a party in whose favor the order runs, the contempt is civil; where the dominant purpose is to vindicate the dignity and authority of the court, and to protect the interests of the general public, the contempt is criminal.  Indeed, the criminal proceedings vindicate the dignity of the courts, but the civil proceedings protect, preserve, and enforce the rights of private parties and compel obedience to orders, judgments and decrees made to enforce such rights.

Aquino vs. Ng (GR 155631)

The records do not bear any indication that petitioner was afforded an opportunity to rebut the charges against him when he was first charged by respondent with contempt. While petitioner was able to oppose respondent’s motion, inasmuch as an indirect contempt charge partakes of the nature of a criminal charge, conviction cannot be had merely on the basis of written pleadings. There is no question that petitioner’s disobedience to the RTC’s lawful order constitutes indirect contempt of court. This, however, was not a license for the RTC to disregard petitioner’s rights. It should have held a hearing in order to provide petitioner with the opportunity to state his defense and explain his side. A hearing affords the contemner the opportunity to adduce before the court documentary or testimonial evidence in his behalf. The hearing will also allow the court a more thorough evaluation of the defense of the contemner, including the chance to observe the accused present his side in open court and subject his defense to interrogation from the complainants or the court itself.

Soriano vs. CA (GR 128938)

he proceedings for punishment of indirect contempt are criminal in nature. The modes of procedure and rules of evidence adopted in contempt proceedings are similar in nature to those used in criminal prosecutions.  Thus, any liberal construction of the rules governing contempt proceedings should favor the accused. It can be argued that Soriano has essentially been afforded the right to be heard, as he did comment on the charge of indirect contempt against him. Yet, since an indirect contempt charge partakes the nature of a criminal charge, conviction cannot be had merely on the basis of written pleadings. The contemner is assured of his or her day in court. If thecontemner is served a notice of hearing, but fails to appear anyway, then that is a different matter. A hearing affords the contemner the opportunity to adduce before the court documentary or testimonial evidence in his behalf. The hearing will also allow the court a more thorough evaluation of the defense of the contemner, including the chance to observe the accused present his side in open court and subject his defense to interrogation from the complainants or the court itself.

Landbank of the Phils. vs. Listana, SR. (GR 152611)

Evidently, quasi-judicial agencies that have the power to cite persons for indirect contempt pursuant to Rule 71 of the Rules of Court can only do so by initiating them in the proper Regional Trial Court. It is not within their jurisdiction and competence to decide the indirect contempt cases. These matters are still within the province of the Regional Trial Courts. In the present case, the indirect contempt charge was filed, not with the Regional Trial Court, but with the PARAD, and it was the PARAD that cited Mr. Lorayes with indirect contempt.

Remman Enterprises vs. CA (GR 107671)

In general, criminal contempt proceedings should be conducted in accordance with the principles and rules applicable to criminal cases, in so far as such procedure is consistent with the summary nature of contempt proceedings. Strict rules that govern criminal prosecutions apply to a prosecution for criminal contempt; the accused is to be afforded many of the protections provided in regular criminal cases; and proceedings under statutes governing them are to be strictly construed. However, criminal proceedings are not required to take any particular form so long as the substantial rights of the accused are preserved.

Civil contempt proceedings, on the other hand, are generally held to be remedial and civil in nature; that is, for the enforcement of some duty, and essentially a remedy resorted to, to preserve and enforce the rights of a private party to an action and to compel obedience to a judgment or decree intended to benefit such a party litigant. The rules of procedure governing criminal contempt proceedings, or criminal prosecutions, ordinarily are inapplicable to civil contempt proceedings.

Regalado vs. Go (GR 167988)

Even if the contempt proceedings stemmed from the main case over which the court already acquired jurisdiction, the Rules direct that the petition for contempt be treated independently of the principal action. Consequently, the necessary prerequisites for the filing of initiatory pleadings, such as the filing of a verified petition, attachment of a certification on non-forum shopping, and the payment of the necessary docket fees, must be faithfully observed.

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Author: Born2drinkStuff

SEO/Content/Article/BMR Writer

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