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Contempt Of Court law

Contempt Of Court law

What is Contempt?

  • The contempt of court law is one of the most controversial elements in the Indian legal context.
  • While the basic idea of a contempt law is to punish those who do not respect the orders of the courts, in the Indian context, contempt is also used to punish speech that lowers the dignity of the court and interferes with the administration of justice.
  • Contempt of court can be of two kinds:
    • Civil, that is the willful disobedience of a court order or judgment or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
    • Criminal, that is written or spoken words or any act that scandalises the court or lowers its authority or prejudices or interferes with the due course of a judicial proceeding or interferes/obstructs the administration of justice.

What is the punishment for Contempt of Court?

  • A finding of being in contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behavior, or publication of material or non-disclosure of material, which in doing so is deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial.
  • A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court, which makes contempt of court a process crime.
  • Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.

Contempt of Courts Act of 1971

In India, contempt of court is of two types: Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt.

Civil Contempt

  • Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.                       Contempt Of Court law
  • civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Criminal Contempt

  • Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.
  • criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
    • Scandalises or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
    • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
    • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Constitutional Provisions

  • Article 129: Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • Article 142(2): Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
  • Article 215: Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • However, the expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.

Need for Contempt Law

  • To insulate the judiciary from unfair attacks and prevent a sudden fall in the judiciary’s reputation in the public eye.
  • It helps judges to do their duties of deciding cases without fear, favour, affection or ill will.

Issues with Contempt Law

  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens, while “contempt provisions” curb people’s freedom to speak against the court’s functioning.
  • The law is very subjective which might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily to suppress their criticism by the public.
  • For example, the assessment of the ground of scandalizing the court, depends, to a great degree, on the temperament and preference of the judge. What could be contempt to Judge A may not be contempt to Judge B.

Analysis of Prashant Bhushan’s case

  • The suo motu contempt proceedings initiated by a bench of the Supreme Court against Mr. Bhushan constitutes an abuse of the court’s contempt jurisdiction, which—for good reason—is to be exercised sparingly and with circumspection.
  • It is because, according to some experts, there is nothing in Mr. Bhushan’s tweets that qualify as contempt of Court.                                                  Contempt Of Court law
  • His tweets are an exercise of his fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) to freely express himself by way of comment and criticism on the conduct of the CJI as a private citizen.
  • Also, these tweets in question appear to be in the realm of perception and comment and don’t seem to have transgressed into contempt. The general principle on contempt is that one can criticise a judgment but you can’t attribute motives to the judge.

Court Cases connected with Contempt of Court in India

  • In Duda P.N. v. Shivshankar, P., the Supreme Court observed that the contempt jurisdiction should not be used by Judges to uphold their own dignity. In the free market places of ideas, criticism about the judicial system or the Judges should be welcomed, so long as criticisms do not impair or hamper the “administration of justice”.
  • In Auto Shankar’s Case, Jeevan Reddy J, invoked the famous “Sullivan doctrine” that public persons must be open to stringent comments and accusations as long as made with bonafide diligence, even if untrue.
  • In Arundhati Roy, In re, the Supreme Court observed that a fair criticism of the conduct of a Judge, the institution of the judiciary and its functioning may not amount to contempt if made in good faith and in public interest.
  • In Indirect Tax practitioners’ Association v. R.K. Jain, S.C. observed that the Court may now permit truth as a defence if two things are satisfied, viz., (i) it is in public interest and (ii) the request for invoking said the defence is bona fide. (S.13, Contempt of Courts Act,1971).

Contempt laws in other countries

  • Already, contempt has practically become obsolete in foreign democracies, with jurisdictions recognising that it is an archaic law, designed for use in a bygone era, whose utility and necessity has long vanished.
  • Canada ties its test for contempt to real, substantial and immediate dangers to the administration.
  • American courts no longer use the law of contempt in response to comments on judges or legal matters.
  • In England, the legal position has evolved.

Conclusion   (Contempt Of Court law)

  • A law for criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with our democratic system which recognizes freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.
  • An excessively loose use of the test of ‘loss of public confidence’, combined with a liberal exercise of suo motu powers, can be dangerous, for it can amount to the Court signalling that it will not suffer any kind of critical commentary about the institution at all, regardless of how evidently problematic its actions may be.
  • In this manner, the judiciary could find itself at an uncanny parallel with the executive, in using laws for chilling effect.
  • Contempt Of Court law



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