Contempt of court and the need for legislation

AuthorPaul Anthony McDermott
PositionB.c.l., ll.m. (Cantab.), ph.d. (N.u.I.), b.l., lecturer, faculty of law, university college dublin
The purpose of this article is to consider whether the law of
contempt of court is sufficiently clear and unambiguous to operate
effectively in this jurisdiction. In particular, it will be argued that
there is an urgent need for legislative intervention. The basic
principles of the doctrine of contempt and the leading cases have
been exhaustively set out elsewhere and will not be repeated here.1
What this article seeks to do is to identify some of the problems that
exist with the law as currently applied in Irish courts.
The obsessive zeal with which litigants may pursue their imagined
grievances and the inventive remedies that are available to the courts
to utilise against them is well illustrated by the recent English case of
Attorney General v. Ebert.2The Attorney General sought an order,
inter alia,barring the respondent from entering the Royal Courts of
Justice without permission. The respondent, one Mr. Ebert, was a
bankrupt who had been declared a vexatious litigant. In the course
of about three and a half years Mr. Ebert had made at least 151
applications to the courtfor permission to issue fresh proceedings or
applications in existing proceedings. On up to ten occasions he had
been removed from the court by security guards. He had accused one
judge of being guilty of fraud and blackmail. He had visited
bankruptcy chambers and said that if the registrar did not break off
what he was doing and hear an application made by him without
notice he would call the police. On many occasions Mr.Eberthad
made requests of court staff that an application brought by him be
heard immediately. He had also written many letters to Neuberger J.
who had heard nearly all of his applications, making serious
allegations against the judge in many of the letters. These allegations
2004] Contemp of Court and the need for
Legislation 185
*B.C.L., LL.M. (Cantab.), Ph.D. (N.U.I.), B.L., Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University College
1See in particular the Law Reform Commission’s excellent Consultation Paper on Contempt
of Court (L.R.C. CP 4 - 1991).

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