You may have heard the phrase ” contempt of court “ during the public broadcast of a trial or television show depicting a dramatic scene in court. While it can be understood that the word contempt is not a good thing, you may not have fully understood what it means. There are two types of contempt of court: civil and criminal , and both have different characteristics and implications .

What is contempt?

In some legal systems contempt is a crime that occurs when slander , libel , insult or threat to an authority in the exercise of their duties, and in fact or word . It is the act of disobeying an authority .


Laws on contempt of court have been designed with the objective of being able to protect the rule of law , guarantee fair trials and avoid the judgment of the media . Contempt can be committed by a wide range of people and organizations, including the press , juries and, as has been observed in recent years, users of social networks .

  • Definition of contempt
  • Characteristics
  • Penal code by country
  • Examples of contempt

Definition of contempt

The definition of contempt involves various concepts ranging from insolence to the sacred and disrespect for superiors . In the area of the Law of Criminal Procedure, this type of crime that is done insulting , slandering , insulting or threatening either to an authority or a public official in the performance of their duties. These slurs or threats can be by means of verbal or factual offenses , and can also be in writing . We can also say that it is the act ofdisobey the law or the orders provided.


The main characteristics are the following:

  • It is not a universal crime and it may not exist based on the internal legal system of each country.
  • It is an expression of threat or defamation that has the capacity to diminish the moral authority of a certain person who has public functions which have been designated by law.
  • It implies a lack of respect for the authorities or superiors.
  • The sanction that contempt brings with it has the main objective of guaranteeing the respect of citizens .
  • It is sanctioned depending on the legislation of each country and what the legal system establishes .
  • In ancient Roman law , it was seen as a protection mechanism for the emperor , which is why it is a term that is used constantly in countries that live under a dictatorship .
  • In some countries, it is only seen as a crime that is carried out against the Judiciary .
  • Some Latin American countries have eliminated contempt for crimes.
  • In some places, before issuing contempt, the functional capacity of the person or institution that has been obliged to enforce the provisions of the ruling must be taken into account .

Penal code by country

Some examples of what the criminal codes say in certain countries are the following:


The crime of contempt was present in Spain as such until the Penal Code of 1973 , which was in force until 1995 . In this code, the crime of contempt was not defined as an attack on the honor of a certain person, on the contrary, it was seen as a direct attack against the principle of authority , and for this reason punishments were imposed for this type of attack. against authority.

After the social , political and legal praxis evolution , in 1955 a reform of the Penal Code was made in which the crime of contempt as such was suppressed and in which it was given the same level as insults , slander or any other another offense against a private citizen.


In this country, the repeal of the contempt law was a consequence of the activity carried out by the International Court of Human Rights , since it is a situation that goes against freedom of expression , an aspect that is necessary for the proper functioning of the democratic society.


In the Mexican civil code, articles 178 to 183 speak of the different penalties that must be imposed when the different types of contempt that can be punished in the country are committed. These penalties can range from a few weeks for the defendant to carry out work days in favor of the community , penalties that include jail and that vary from a few months to two or more years in prison , and fines of up to ten A thousand pesos.

Examples of contempt

Some examples of contempt may include the following:

  • Failure to appear to appear if you have been called as a witness.
  • Make it difficult for the authority to act.
  • To the doctor, surgeon, pharmacist or obstetrician who, who has been called as an expert to a judicial process, and refuses to practice the examination.

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