Article 28 (12) of the Constitution provides that, ” Except for contempt of Court, no person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it prescribed by law.”

The general rule in simple terms is; no one can be convicted for a none existing offence.

The law should define the offence, prescribe the elements of crime or what constitutes and offence and go ahead to prescribe punishment for that offence.

In Uganda, The Penal Code Act defines what amounts to criminal offences, lays out their elements and the penalty or penalties that may be imposed if any of the criminal offences are committed by an individual.

Article 28 (12) above however makes an exception to this general rule.A judge who feels someone is improperly challenging or ignoring the court’s authority has the power to declare the defiant person (called the contemnor) in contempt of court. The offence is aimed at ensuring that the sanctity and dignity of courts is preserved and maintained

Contempt of court is therefore, any wilful disobedience to, or disregard of a court order or any misconduct in a court; action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court.

Contempt of court is an offence that depends on the discretion of the judicial officer and hence it can be hard to pinpoint which specific acts would amount to contempt of court and also what the penalty will be.

A person can be held liable for contempt of court when he/she;

  • interrupts proceedings through action or words,
  • disrespects court, the judicial officers and the proceedings,
  • makes unnecessary noise in the court,
  • tampers with court documents or evidence in court,
  • disobeys an order,
  • fails to comply with Court’s request etc