CONTEMPT. A contempt in a court of law is a disobedience of the rules, orders, or process of the court, or a dis turbance or interruption of its proceed ings. Contempts by resistance to the process of a court, such as the refusal of a sheriff to return a writ, are punishable by attachment; but contempta done in the presence of the court, which cause an ob struction to its proceedings in administer ing the law, may be punished or repressed in a summary manner by the commit ment of the offender to prison or by fin ing him. Thepower of enforcing their process, and of vindicating their autho rity against open obstruction or defiance, is incident to all superior courts; and the means which the law intrusts to them for that purpose are attachment for con tempts committed out of court, and com mitment and fine for contempta done be fore the court. (Viner's Abridgment, tit. "Contempts.") If a defendant in Chancery, after being served with a subpoena, does not appear within the time fixed by the rules of the court, and plead, answer, or demur to the bill, he is in contempt, and he is liable to various processes in succession according to the continuance of his disobedience.
The first process is attachment, which is a warrant directed to the sheriff ordering him to bring the defendant into court, who is thereupon committed to the Queen's Prison till he complies with the orders of the court.
There are also contempts against the King's prerogative, contempts against his person and government, contempts of the King's title, which fall short of treason or przemunire ; and contempts against the king's palaces and courts of justice ; all which contempts and their several punishments are discussed by Blackstone (Comm. book iv. c. 9).