Contempt of Court: An Overview

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Contempt of Court: An Overview

Written by Ms Nikita Kumari


This act authorizes the Supreme Court and High Court to penalize the acts of contempt. The Supreme Court and High Courts existence the courts of record, and have the constitutional validity to punish for an act of contempt of court under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, according to the jurisdiction specified by the said act.

The Contempt of court can be understood as an offence of violating the court authority by disobeying the instructions laid down by the court. The Act defines civil and criminal contempt of the court. Section 2(a) deals with the act of contempt of court means civil contempt or criminal contempt. The two types of contempt are different in character and very difficult to differentiate.

Section 2(b) of the Act includes willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, etc. of a court, it also keeps in its crease a willful breach of a responsibility given to a court of law. Civil contempt is wrong of private nature. It scars the interests of the party, entitled to get advantage from the defied order, whereas criminal contempt is an offence against the society where the contemnor demoralizes the authority of the court by his words or actions.

Section 2 (c) defines the word ‘criminal contempt’ as the publication of any matter, whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise or the doing of any other act by the same means, whatsoever which is scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of the 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.

Also, Article 215 and 129 of the Constitution of India authorizes the court to take action against the contempt. Article 215 of the Indian Constitution states that every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court as well as the power to punish for contempt of itself. Whereas, Article 129 of the Indian Constitution states that the Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court and also the power to punish for contempt of itself. Moreover, Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 has given them special powers to all the respective High Courts to penalize the inferior courts for the offence of contempt of court.

What is the statutory basis for Contempt of court?

India observed Pre-independence laws for contempt of court in India. Early not only the High Courts but also the courts of some princely states had such laws for the same. After the adoption of the Constitution, contempt of court was treated as a restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. Moreover, Article 129 of the constitution deliberated on the Supreme Court with the power to penalize contempt of itself. Article 215 deliberated a consistent power on the High Courts. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gives statutory backing to the idea. And also provided the guidelines for the same.

What are the kinds of Contempt of Court?

As per Indian Law, contempt is classified as civil and criminal. Civil contempt is fairly simple. It is said to be committed when someone wilfully breaches an undertaking given to the court or someone wilfully disobeys any court order. However, criminal contempt is very complex. It consists of mainly three forms:

  1. Words, written or spoken, actions and, signs that scandalize or tend to scandalize or tends to lower or lower the authority of any court.
  2. Interferes or prejudices with any judicial proceeding.
  3. Obstructs or interferes with the administration of justice.

Raising accusations against the individual judges or judiciary, which contributes to motives to judgments and judicial functioning, and any scurrilous attack on the conduct of judges are normally considered matters that scandalize the judiciary. The reason for the provision is that courts must be protected from those attacks that lower their authority, make the public lose faith in its public impartiality, and defame its public image.

Essentials of Contempt of court

To prove any offence in the court, it is very necessary to fulfil the essentials of it first. Every offence in India has certain exceptions that have to be fulfilled for making the person liable for doing the act. To understand the requirement of fulfilling the essentials, let us go through with an example if a person named Surya has to prove that the other person named Samiksha is guilty of committing an act that is unlawful and an offence in the court of law. Then the liability to prove Samkisha guilty relies on Surya, which includes fulfilling the essentials required to commit that act or not. Similarly, the contempt of court also has certain essentials that are as follows:

What is not contempt of court?

Accurate and fair reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court. With these, any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.

Truth: Defence against a contempt charge?

For the past few years, the truth was the only one that was considered as a defence against the charge of contempt. There was always an impression that the judiciary tended to hide any misconduct among its individual members in the name of protecting and safeguarding the image of the institution. The Act was amended in 2006 to introduce truth as a valid defence if it was in the public interest and was invoked in a bona fide manner.

The procedure of the court proceedings

The procedures laid as per the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 has to be followed, as mentioned in Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India. An individual can recourse to the following options against contempt.

  • He may place the information before the court and request the court to take action.
  • He may put the information before the Attorney General and request him to take appropriate action.
  • The contemnor alleged is entitled to get a notice about the same an opportunity of being heard, before considering him guilty of contempt and passing an order.

Punishment for contempt of court

Supreme Court and High Court are bestowed with the power to punish the contemnor for contempt of the court. As per Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, the punishment for the contempt of court can be the simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both. However, in civil cases, if the court considers that a penalty is not meeting the ends of justice and that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary, then the court shall instead of sentencing him to simple imprisonment, direct that he be detained in civil prison for such period not exceeding six months as it may think fit.

The punishment awarded to an accused may be discharged on an apology being made by the accused to the court’s satisfaction. An excuse cannot be rejected on the grounds that the accused makes it Bonafede.

Limitation Period

Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines the limitation period within which the actions have to be taken against the contempt. It specifies that the limitation period is of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.

Remedies against an order of Punishment

The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, recently witnessed an amendment in the year 2006, though, which section 13 of the act came into force. The new act is therefore termed as Contempt of Court Amendment Act, 2006. Section 13 states that contempt of court cannot be punished under certain circumstances or certain cases.

Clause (a) of Section 13 of the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006 states that no court under this Act shall be punished for contempt of court unless and until it satisfies that the contempt is of such a nature that it tends to substantially interfere or substantially interferes with the due course of Justice.

Clause (b) of Section 13 of this Act states that the court has the authority to give defence on the justification of truth in cases where it finds that the act done in the public interest and the request for invoking that defence is bona fide.

Landmark Contempt of court cases

The case Sudhakar Prasad vs. Govt. of A.P. and Ors., is similar to the above-mentioned case study. In this case, also once again, the Supreme Court declared that the ultimate powers to punish for contempt are inherent and in-built in nature, and the provision of the constitution only recognized the said pre-existing situation.

However, it is important to note that the provision of contempt of court cannot be used to limit the exercise of jurisdiction given in Article 129 and Article 215 of the constitution.

In the case of Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr. vs State of Gujarat & Ors, it was held that the punishment that is given for contempt in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 shall only be applicable to the High Court but for Supreme Court, it acts as a guide. As this judgment was not accompanied by rationality, this was a difficult situation as the Supreme Court has been given great powers that the drafters of the Indian Constitution have also not given.


The current job identifying with ex facie contempt of lower courts is unacceptable and deluding in India. It creates the impression that clearly, challenges in such manner are the after the result of the cover of contempt powers under the Indian Penal Code, Contempt of courts Act, and hatred forces of the Supreme Court and High Court under the Indian constitution.

The situation has arisen as more convoluted by a method of the conflicting translations finished by the Supreme Court and High Court in regards to different arrangements under the Indian Penal Code dealing with interference with the administration of justice and exclusion clause contained in the Contempt of Courts Act. Not just the higher court ought to be enabled to manage hatred, yet additionally, the lower court ought to be given this force. Contempt of court whenever seen from the point of view of the appointed authorities, higher legal authorities appear to be acceptable yet in the event that it goes to the viewpoint of common people it turns towards its awful impact.

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