Table of Contents
This term Contempt of Court can be easily understood as when we are disrespectful or disobedience towards the court of law which means that we willfully fail to obey the court order or disrespect the legal authorities. Then the judge has the right to impose sanctions such as fines or can send the contemnor to jail for a certain period of time if he is found guilty of Contempt of Court.
In India, the concept of Contempt of Court is defined in Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 which has broadly describe it as civil contempt or criminal contempt.
There are three Articles in the Constitution of India which talk about the Contempt of Court and these are as follows:
Article 129 says that the Supreme Court shall be the ‘Court of Record’ and it has all the powers of such courts including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
The ‘Court of Record’ means a Court having its acts and proceedings registered for everlasting memory or that memory which has no end and as evidence or proof. The truth of these records cannot be questioned and also these records are treated as a higher authority. And anything stated against the truth of these records comprised Contempt of Court.
This Article says that when any law is made by the Parliament on the provisions mentioned in clause 1 of this Article, the Supreme Court has all the power to make an order for securing any person’s attendance, production of any documents or has the power to give punishment to anyone for its contempt.
This Article states that the High Court shall have inherent power to punish for contempt.
Origin of Contempt of Court
Contempt of Court is a matter which regards that justice should be administered fairly and it also punishes anyone who aims to hurt the dignity or authority of the judicial tribunals.
This law has its origin from the medieval times when the royal powers of the monarch were transferred to the court and at this time the monarch was believed to be appointed by God and everyone was accountable to him.
This power of accountability clearly depicts the same accountability the Supreme Court possesses nowadays under Article 129, 142, 215 of the Indian constitution against its contempt.
History of Law of Contempt in India
The Sanyal Committee report deals with the historical aspect of the Law of Contempt in India. It has given many recommendations regarding the law of contempt. Several changes were brought through the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 which was not provided by the previous Acts of 1926 and 1952.
This Act divided the ‘Contempt of Court’ into criminal and civil contempt with their definition respectively. This thing was not mentioned in the earlier existing courts.
The law of contempt similar to many other laws has been brought from the English laws and statutes but this law has not been absolutely taken from the English laws it has other origins too.
Philosopher Kautilya, in his book Arthashastra has written about the governance at that time. He has written that “Any person who exposes the king or insults his council or makes any type of bad attempt on the king then the tongue of that person should be cut off.” Adding to this statement, he also said that “When a judge threatens, bullies or makes silence to any of the disputants in the court then he should be punished.”
Until the year 1952, there were no statutory provisions for the contempt of court in India but after the enactment of Contempt of Court Act, 1952 statutory provisions for contempt of court in India has established. This Act extends to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir at that time. This Act gives power to the High Court to punish contempt of the subordinate court.
This Act has repealed the existing law from the Contempt of Court Act, 1926 that was prevailing in the state of Rajasthan and the state of Saurashtra. These Acts did not provide the definition of the term ‘Contempt’ and also there was still a lot of ambiguity present around the law of contempt.
Now, let us discuss the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.
Contempt of Courts Act 1971
This Act extended to the whole of India and it has also provided that this Act shall not apply to the state of Jammu and Kashmir except in certain conditions in which the provision of the Act is connected to the Contempt of Supreme Court (now applicable).
Another thing is that this Act provides the definition of Contempt of Court which has not been given by the earlier Act of Contempt of Court. This Act under Section 2(a) defines Contempt of Court as ‘Civil Contempt’ and ‘Criminal Contempt’.
In this act there are several provisions given that it does not amount to Contempt of Court. These are:
- Innocent publication of a matter of its distribution does not amount to Contempt of Court.
- (ii) Publishing of fair and accurate reports of the judicial proceedings does not amount to Contempt of Court.
- (iii) Fair criticism on judicial acts does not amount to contempt of Court.
Next, in this Act, the High Court has been given the power to make decisions on the matter which is outside its jurisdiction. Punishment for Contempt of Court has been given in this Act and also what type of misconduct not amount to Contempt of Court has been given, how we can deal with that contempt has also been given.
The Judge, Magistrate or any other person who is acting judicially can also be held in contempt for their actions. Also, this Act gives certain limitations where this Act does not apply. This Act does not apply to the Courts of Nyaya Panchayat and other Courts of the village. This Act repealed the old existing Act of Contempt of Court which came into force in 1952.
Like every offence has certain exceptions that have to be fulfilled for making the person liable for doing that act. Contempt of Court also has certain essentials and these are as follows:
- Disobedience to any type of court proceedings, its orders, judgment, decree, etc. should be done ‘willfully’ in case of Civil Contempt.
- In Criminal Contempt ‘publication’ is the most important thing and this publication can be either spoken or written, or by words, or by signs, or by visible representation.
- The court should make a ‘valid order’ and this order should be in ‘knowledge’ of the respondent.
- The action of the contemnor should be deliberate and also it should be clearly disregarding the court’s order.
Types of Contempt of Court in India
Depending on the nature of the case in India, Contempt of Court is of two types.
- Civil Contempt: Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 states Civil Contempt as wilful disobedience to the order, decree, direction, any judgment or writ of the Court by any person or willfully breach of undertakings by a person given to a Court. Since Civil Contempt deprives a party of the benefit for which the order was made so these are the offences essential of private nature. In other words, a person who is entitled to get the benefit of the court order, this wrong is generally done to this person.
- Criminal Contempt: According to Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, Criminal Contempt is Defined as;
- the publication of any matter by words, spoken or written, or by gesture, or by signs, or by visible representation or
- doing of any act which includes:
- Scandalize or tends to scandalize, or lowers 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 tend to interfere with the administration of justice in any manner.
Case Law: Hari Singh Nagra vs. Kapil Sibal
Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution contemplates that freedom of expression is available to the press albeit fiercely is no crime but a necessary right. A fair and reasonable criticism of a judgment which is a public document or which is a public act of a judge concerned with the administration of justice would not constitute contempt. In fact, such fair and reasonable criticism must be encouraged because after all no one, much fewer judges, can claim infallibility.
Difference between Criminal and Civil Contempt
1. Wilful disobedience to the order of the Court is considered as civil contempt whereas scandalizing or lowering the authority of the Court in the public eye is considered as criminal contempt.
2. The interference which is considered less injurious to the administration of justice is known as criminal contempt whereas the interference which is considered more injurious to the administration of justice is taken as criminal contempt.
Punishment for Contempt of Court in India
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.
Both the High Court and the Supreme Court of India are bestowed with the power to punish for the contempt of the court.
According to the Indian Penal Code Section 12 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971, contempt of court can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months, or with fine which may extend to 2000 thousand rupees, or both.
The Supreme court and the High court can take Cognizance in case of Contempt in the face of the court when it is alleged, or appears to the Supreme Court or the High Court upon its own view, that a person has been guilty of contempt committed in its presence or hearing, the court may cause such person to be detained in custody, and, at any time before the rising of the court, on the same day, or as early as possible.
In other cases of Contempt outside the court, cognizance can be taken by SC and HC on its own motion, OR on the motion of the Advocate General OR on motion by any other person with the consent in writing of the Advocate General as per the procedure provided under the Act of 1971.
But there is Period of Limitation for contempt of court proceedings, no court shall initiate any proceedings of contempt, either on its own motion or otherwise after the expiry period of 1 year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed. This is applicable in the field of civil as well as criminal court of contempt.