10 June 2024

International Cases

Attorney General vs. Morrision



Contempt of Court

If an undertaking is clear and unambiguous, a failure to obey it will constitute contempt

The applicant, the Attorney General, seeks orders that the first contemnor, Robert Noel Morrison (Mr. Morrison Snr.), and the second contemnor, Robert Frank Morrison (Mr. Morrison Jnr.), be punished for contempt of court for the sale of a property in contravention of an undertaking given to the State Administrative Tribunal. These proceedings arise from a report to this court concerning the conduct of the Morrisons by the President of the Tribunal. On 5 August 2021, in the course of a directions hearing for guardianship and administration proceedings before the Tribunal, Mr. Morrison Snr. gave an undertaking to the Tribunal (the Undertaking). The Undertaking was that 'he would not sell, charge, transfer, mortgage (including increasing the amount of any loan either by further application or by accessing any redraw facility) or otherwise deal with the property at 146 Old Dairy Court, Oakford, Western Australia' (the Property).

The Undertaking was given by Mr Morrison Snr. in the presence of his son, Mr. Morrison Jnr., who attended the Tribunal hearing with him. At the time he gave the Undertaking, Mr. Morrison Snr. did not disclose to the Tribunal that he had already entered into a contract to sell the Property to Mr Morrison Jnr. Further, Mr. Morrison Jnr. did not disclose that the Property had been sold to him.

All proceedings for contempt, whether the contempt alleged is civil or criminal, are realistically criminal in nature. The consequence is that any charge of contempt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Contempt of court is a common law offence preserved by Section 7 of the Criminal Code (WA). The Tribunal is not a court of record and accordingly any conduct that interferes with the proper administration of justice by the Tribunal does not of itself constitute contempt. Section 100(1) of the SAT Act overcomes this obstacle by ensuring that conduct in relation to Tribunal proceedings may be punished as if it were contempt of the Supreme Court.

The underlying rationale of the court's contempt power is to uphold and protect the effective administration of justice. A party to civil proceedings who disobeys a court order or contravenes an undertaking given to the court is guilty of contempt of court. This type of contempt is usually regarded as being a civil contempt. However, if the disobedience of the court order or contravention of the undertaking involves wilful or deliberate defiance, sometimes referred to as 'contumacious', the contempt will constitute the criminal offence of contempt of court.

If on its plain reading, objectively construed, an undertaking is clear and unambiguous, a failure to obey it will constitute contempt. The terms of the Undertaking were clear and unambiguous. Mr. Morrison Snr. committed contempt. Mr. Morrison Snr's conduct was a conscious defiance of the Tribunal's authority. Mr. Morrison Jnr. aided and abetted the contravention of the Undertaking. The acts and omissions of Mr. Morrison Snr. and Mr. Morrison Jnr. interfered with the due administration of justice. Present Court convicts Mr. Morrison Snr. and Mr. Morrison Jnr. of criminal contempt of court.

Tags : Undertaking Contempt Conviction

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