21 November 2022


International Cases

PORTER v. STEINBERG

Australia

14.08.2019

Contempt of Court

Deliberate disobedience of an order does not require a specific intention to break the law

Present proceedings arise from a dispute about noise disturbance between the owners of units in a block of units in Bay View Terrace. Unit 1 is a ground floor unit owned by the Applicant Mr. Porter and unit 2 is a first floor unit situated directly above unit 1. Unit 2 is owned by the first and second contemnors Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Hams respectively. Mr. Steinberg was guilty of contempt of court together with a number of ancillary orders. The contempt was admitted by Mr Steinberg and was constituted by a failure by him to obey an order made by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT Order).

Section 98 of the Civil Judgments Enforcement Act, 2004 states that, if a natural person disobeys a judgment to which this Division applies, the person is guilty of a contempt of court. A person entitled to the benefit of a judgment to which this Division applies, may request the court to deal with a natural person, partner, corporation or officer guilty of contempt under this section for the contempt. The underlying rationale for the exercise of the contempt power is to uphold and protect the effective administration of justice.

The requirements for proof of a punishable contempt of court are as follows: (i) an order was made by the court; (ii) the terms of the order were clear, unambiguous and capable of compliance; (iii) the order was served on the contemnor or service was dispensed with; (iv) the contemnor has knowledge of the terms of the order; (v) the contemnor has breached the terms of the order; and (vi) the act or omission which constituted the breach of the order was deliberate and voluntary.

Deliberate disobedience of an order does not require a specific intention to break the law or even knowledge on the part of the contemnor that the relevant conduct constituted a breach. It is sufficient that the contemnor was aware of the facts that make their conduct a breach of the order. In the context of contempt, 'deliberate' means wilful in the sense that, the actions of the contemnor were not casual, accidental or unintentional. Disobedience of a court order constitutes a civil contempt although where the disobedience involves deliberate defiance, that is, where the disobedience can be described as contumacious, it may constitute a criminal contempt. The distinction between criminal and civil contempt is, however, blurred and has been described as illusory. The contempt was contumacious

The terms of the SAT Order were clear - it required the floor space in unit 2 (with the exception of the kitchen, laundry lavatory and bathroom floor space) to be covered or otherwise treated to an extent sufficient to prevent the transmission therefrom of noise likely to disturb the peaceful enjoyment of Mr Porter. Mr. Porter's evidence establishes that, Mr. Steinberg works for a firm of lawyers and obtained a law degree in 2015 and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice in 2016. Mr. Steinberg was not under any misapprehension of what the SAT Order required.

It is inferred from the sequence of events from October 2018 onwards that, Mr. Steinberg did not intend to take any further step to comply with the SAT Order unless compelled by enforcement action to do so. Mr Steinberg's disobedience to the SAT Order was not only wilful but defiantly so and as such was contumacious. Mr. Steinberg is guilty of contempt by reason of his failure to comply with the SAT Order. Mr. Steinberg is directed forthwith to undertake the rectification work necessary to comply with the SAT Order.

Tags : Compliance Direction SAT Order

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