punishment Contempt of court cases can often present some difficult issues with impossibility of compliance with court orders. It often occurs in environmental law that the defendants simply don’t have either the means to comply (eg they can’t remove thousands of tonnes of contaminated waste) or the capacity to pay for the remedial work (which could run into $millions) or to pay a fine. In that situation questions of a suitable deterrent/appropriate punishment become important.

One of the more interesting appropriate punishment cases involved Arthur (Neddy) Smith who (although he was compellable) refused to give evidence at the murder trial of Glenn Roderick Flack. The end result was that Flack’s trial was brought to an “abrupt end”. Smith was found guilty of contempt of court….

 In Smith v The Queen (1991) 25 NSWLR 1 the question was the appropriateness of a fine of $60,000 imposed on a contemnor who was already imprisoned for another offence, who had no assets and whose sole source of income was $12 a week for work in goal. The alternative penalty of an additional gaol sentence would have served no purpose, since the contemnor was already serving a life sentence. In holding that a fine of $60,000 was appropriate, Mahoney JA said (at 23):

“A punishment must be both appropriate to the offence and be seen publicly to be such. Given Mr Smith’s conviction for murder and his life sentence, a further sentence will have no great effect on him: that, no doubt, is why he did what he did. It is the significance to others of the present punishment which has a particular importance.…..But it remains important that what is done to him should both mark, clearly and emphatically the community’s view of his offence and (if it may) deter other possible offenders.”

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph.

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