Cal. Litig. 2014, Volume 27, Number 3

Summary Contempt and Due Process: England, 1631, California, 1888

By Marc Alexander

Terminating sanctions usually result from failure to answer a complaint or egregious discovery abuses, despite repeated admonitions from the court. There is, however, a dramatic example of contempt of court after which the misbehaving party himself was terminated, an example of "summary contempt" powers exercised with what was then considered due process within the rule of law. It took place in 1631 at the "high-water mark" of English judges’ contempt powers.

"Richardson, Chief Justice of C.B. at the assizes at Salisbury in the summer of 1631 was assaulted by a prisoner condemned there for felony, who after his condemnation threw a brickbat at the said Judge, which narrowly missed; and for this an indictment was immediately drawn by Noy against the prisoner, and his right hand cut off and fixed to the gibbet, upon which he was immediately hanged in the presence of the Court." (73 Eng. Rep. 416 (1378-1865).)

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