Contempt of Court is an offense in the eye of law of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. The Contempt of Court means an act that disregards or disrespects a court of law or to interfere in a judicial proceeding by any individual or any organization which defies the justice or administration of justice.
The High Court and Supreme Court of India are known as the Court of Record and also they are bestowed with the power to punish for the offense of Contempt of Court. In India, there is an Act that proposed the law for the Contempts of Court i.e. Contempt of Court Act, 1971. This Act of 1971 allows the Superior courts to punish for the Contempt of Court.
The aim and objective of this Act are to protect the administration of justice in criminal and civil cases; maintain the position of law and prevent interference in the process of justice.
Anything that curtails the freedom of limits of the Judicial Proceedings must of necessity result in hampering of the administration of law and in interfering with the due course of justice. This necessarily constitutes Contempt of Court.
According to Corpus Jurist Secondum,
“The Contempt of Court is disobedience to the court by acting in opposition to the authority, justice, and dignity thereof. It also implies a willful disregard or disobedience of the court order.”
According to Halsbury,
“Any act done or writing published which is calculated to bring a court or judge into disrupt or lower his authority or to obstruct with the due course of justice or the lawful process of the court is Contempt of Court.”
According to Oswald,
“Contempt of Court may be instituted by any conduct that brings down the authority and admission of law into disrespect or disregard to interfere with or partiality parties, litigation, and their witness during the litigation.”
Article 129 and Article 142(2) of the Indian Constitution, 1950 talk about the Contempt of Court.
The Supreme Court shall be the “Court of records” and shall have all the power of such a court including the power to punish contempt of itself.
As we know the “Court of Record” means every proceeding of the court has to be recorded for permanent evidence. Supreme Court has much more power than other courts of record and it has the supreme authority of India as Supreme Court for giving punishment for the Contempt of Court.
In Delhi Judicial Service Association v. the State of Gujarat,
It has been held that under Article 129, the Supreme Court has the power to punish a person for the contempt of itself and also its subordinate courts.
Article 142(2) talks about, the Supreme Court have all and every power to make any order to secure the attendance of any person the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt itself.
It doesn’t mean that Supreme Court can take action against the right of personal liberty i.e. this article does violate the “Freedom of Expression” of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.
Origin and History of Contempt of Court in India
The root of contempt’s law was traced during pre-independence when East India Company had control over the Territories of India. In 1801 the Charter of 1800, the Supreme Court at Madras came into existence, and in 1824 by the Charter of 1823, the Supreme Court of Bombay came into the existence. Recorder’s room and Supreme Court exercised the same power as the superior court in England in the matters of punishing for contempt. The Supreme Court was in turn succeeded by the High Court under the Indian High Courts Act, 1861.
In Re Abdool and Mahtab,
Peacock C.J. laid down the rule regarding the power to punish for contempt,
“There can be no doubt that every court of record has the power of summarily punishing for contempt.”
As we all know the name of Kautilya, writer of “Arthasastra” he mentioned in his book that an ancient time if anybody goes against the judgment of King and break the decorum of the King’s court he would be punished. From this, we would understand that the punishment of Contempt of Court was given from ancient times.
The first contempt law in India was passed in 1926 as Contempt of Court Act, 1926 describes the power of the court in punishing for Contempt of Court. After the commencement of this Act in British India various other states such as Mysore, Hyderabad, Madhya Pradesh, Pepsu, Rajasthan, Travancore, Cochin, and Sarusjatra enact this Act. The Contempt of Court Act, 1952 replaces the 1926 Act. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 was passed by the Parliament in December 1971 and came into existence on 24 December 1971.
Contempt of Court Act, 1971
Contempt of Court Act, 1971 extends to the whole of India except in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, only this Act of Contempt of Court gives the definition of Contempt of Court which has not been given in the earlier Act of the Contempt of court.
Section 2(a) of Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines Contempt of court as “Civil Contempt” and “Criminal Contempt”.
Essentials of the Contempt of Court are as follow-
1. In Civil Contempt, “willfully disobedience or disregard” is done in any type of court proceedings, its order, judgment, and decree, etc.,
2. “Publication” is the most important thing in the Criminal Contempt. The publication can be either spoken or written by words, or by signs, or by visual representation,
3. “Valid order” should be made by the court and the respondent should have “knowledge” regarding this order,
4. Contemnor’s action should be disregarded of the court’s order.
When these essentials were fulfilled then, the accused was held liable for the offense of the Contempt of Court.
Types of Contempt of Court
In India, there are two types of Contempt of Court depending upon the nature of the cases,
- Civil Contempt
- Criminal Contempt
1. Civil Contempt–
Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines civil contempt as if any person or any organization disobey or disregards the order, decree, direction, or judgment pass by the court willfully is termed as civil contempt. This is the case of willful disobedience of the court order. The main objective is not only to give punishment to the accused but also to fulfill the following direction or order given by the court.
In Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of Munsiff,
This is a case of non-rendering of assistance. Court has passed an order to render assistance. The decision was passed by the court to deliver things but the respondent failed to do so. So he will be held liable for civil contempt of court.
Defenses to Civil Contempt-
There are the following defenses for the Civil Contempt,
a) Respondent has a lack of knowledge regarding an order of the Court- If a person claims that he was unaware of the order given by the court, then, the person cannot be held liable for the Contempt of Court.
b) An order doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the Court- If the order, decree, direction, or judgment given by the court did not come under the jurisdiction of the court. And a person disobeys the order, and then the person was not held liable for the contempt of court.
c) The disobedience or breach done should not be done willfully- If a person pleading that the act of disobedience done by him was not done willfully, it was just a mere accident then, the person was not held liable for the contempt of court.
d) The order was vague and indistinct- If the order passed by the court is vague or ambiguous or indistinct i.e. order was not specific then, in this case, the accused gets defense for the contempt of court.
e) The order involves more than one meaning- If a court passes any decree or order which has more than one rational interpretation and the respondent contempt, then, the respondent will not be held liable for the offense.
2. Criminal Contempt–
According to Section 2(c) of Contempt of Court Act, 1971, Criminal Contempt is defined as-
- “The publication of any matter by words (spoken or written), or by gestures, or by signs, or by visual representation;
- Doing any act which includes:
- Scandalize or tends to scandalize, or lower or tends to lower the authority of any court, or
- Biasness interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any type of judicial proceedings, or
- Obstructs or tends to obstruct, interfere or tends to interfere with the administration of justice in any manner.”
In Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh,
In this case, High Court held that it was an attempt to intimidate the Judge of the High Court and cause an interface in the conduct of the fair trial.
Defenses to Criminal Contempt-
a) Private Publication- If a publication is a private publication then, it is termed as a good defense in the matter of criminal contempt.
b) Innocent Publication- If a person has no knowledge regarding the pendency of a case and he publishes the case publically which lowers the reputation of the court then, he will not be held liable for Contempt of Court.
c) Fair and Accurate Publication- If a person does fair and accurate publication related to judicial proceedings, then, he was not held liable for the offense.
d) Personal Defamation- If a person defames any judge or authority of the court personally then, he will not be held liable for contempt of court.
Punishment for Contempt of Court
Section 12(1) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 states, if a person is alleged for the offense of Contempt of Court he shall be punished with simple imprisonment extended to 6 months or fine up to ₹2000 or both.
Contempt of Court in the Foreign States
United Kingdom (U.K.)
In the UK contempt of court refers to unfairly disrupts or influencing court case by disobeying the court’s judgment; shouting or taking pictures of the court proceeding; refusing to answer in the court if you are called as a witness; publicly commenting on the court cases through the social media, print media, etc. which harms the public.
In the UK, there are mainly three types of contempt of court exists:
a) Publication Contempt– Sometimes matter of the trial get published in the newspaper, television, social media which damage the fair trial of the Court. It also happened that the non-journalist sometimes matter published in social media and spread it. The Law Officer can take legal action against those publications which impede or damage the reputation of the Court.
b) Juror Contempt– Juror Contempt refers to when the jury may dishonor the judgment of the Court or tells to someone who was not a part of the jury that what judgment the court will consider or what the jury member decides or observed in the matter of the case.
c) Civil Contempt– If one of the parties in a case makes a false statement in the proceeding of the Court to decide in his favor, may amount to be a contempt of court.
If someone is found guilty for contempt of court, he or she will get punished for imprisonment up to 2 Years or fine or both.
United State of America (USA)
Similarly, like India, the US has distinguished two types of Contempt. One is civil contempt and another one is criminal contempt. In Civil Contempt, the person had refused to obey the decision of the court whereas, in Criminal Contempt, the authority of the court may be disregarded or scandalized by someone.
The Apex Court and State Court provide the maximum punishment for each count of contempt is imprisonment for 20 days and imposed a fine of $1,000. The magistrate court has given the maximum punishment for each count of contempt is imprisonment for 10 days and imposes a fine of $200. In Probate Court, the maximum punishment is imprisonment for 20 days was allowed and a fine of $500.
Nowadays, the Contempt of Court is a very debatable issue on the matter of Civil Contempt or Criminal Contempt. The cases of civil contempt are very prominent and usually, the cases of civil contempt are filed in the court nor the criminal contempt. The matter against criminal contempt is very less as civil contempt. The debate is also focused to delete criminal contempt and deals with the cases of only civil contempt majority of the cases are of civil contempt.
In R v. Commissioner of Police, Lord Dennings, held that,
The power to punish for contempt of court is not for upholding the dignity neither of judges nor to suppress the person who was against the court of law. Because of the nature of the duty of the judge as they didn’t reply directly for their criticism and not they were going to public controversy but they can reply with their conduct and giving judgment in such a way so, people can get their answer.
In Chandan Mitra case,
The executive editor of Hindustan Times, Chandan Mitra, wrote a defamatory sentence in his column that the Judges of the Supreme Court need a psychiatric council. The accused was held liable for the contempt of the court.
Both cases are contrary to each other because in the earlier case law of England, it is said that, the judges have no power to give punishment for their lowering their dignity but in the latter case of India, the judges have the power to punish the accused of the criticism of judges of the court of law.
The Contempt of Court is lowering the reputation of the court, its officer and interferes in the judicial proceedings; or to publish something which scandalizes or tends to scandalize the authority of the court, interfere or tends to interfere in the administration of justice. The main objective for the punishment of the contempt of court is to maintain and respect for the law or any other justice made in the court of law. Thus, every individual is bound to respect or put forth his opinion in front of the court without disrespecting the authority of the court or any person. Judges or the officers of the court give some respect to any person who should not harm the reputation or defame any person. This Act doesn’t violate the fundamental right of “Freedom of Speech & Expression“. Thus this Act has been constructed to maintain the prestige of law and order in society.
 The Constitution of India, 1950
 (1991) 4 SCC 406
 The Constitution of India, 1950
 The Contempts of Court act, 1971
 AIR 2008 Gav 62
 The Contempts of Court Act, 1971
 5332(NCE) of 1993
This article is written by Aditi Sahu B.B.A.LLB. (III Year) student at Banasthali Vidyapith.
Also Read – What Are the Defences Allowed in Contempt Proceedings?