HM Journal

CONTEMPT OF COURT

Importance of contempt of court

Contempt in law implies being disobedient to a court or towards it’s rulings. The acknowledgment of contempt of court and to punish for it is fundamental for any nation, for example, India which depends on the idea of law and order, which requires supremacy of law, since the judiciary is believed to be the last stronghold of expectation, justice and equity for the people of India.

As indicated by the Supreme court bar affiliation v. Association of India (1995), The object of discipline is both remedial and restorative along with element of public policy for punishing civil contempt since the organization of equity would be subverted if the request for any court is to be dismissed without any potential repercussions.

What is contempt of court

Article 129 declares the Supreme court as a “Court of record” and that it will have power of a court of record including the ability to punish for its contempt of itself. Further Article 142(2) empowers the Supreme Court to examine and punish for any contempt of itself. Similarly, Article 215 pronounces High courts as a “Court of record” and that it shall have power to punish for contempt of itself.

Power to punish for contempt of both the Supreme Court and the High court has been provided for by the Constitution and also by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The 1971 Act doesn’t characterize what constitutes contempt, it essentially clarifies the sorts of contempt: Civil contempt and Criminal contempt.

Kinds of contempt of court

The Contempt of courts Act, 1971 enshrines 2 forms of contempt.

Civil contempt

According to section 2(b), civil contempt is willful disobedience to any judgment or decree of a court or a willful breach of any undertaking given to a court. Determination of civil contempt is objective. If judicial order has been willfully disobeyed by an individual, then that fact shall constitute civil contempt.

Criminal contempt

Section 2(c) characterized criminal contempt when a person has published (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) any matter which interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the course of justice in connection with any civil or criminal proceeding pending at that time of publication, if at that time he had no reasonable grounds for believing that the proceeding was pending.

The phrase “Scandalizes the authority of court” relies upon the discretion of the judge as no law in India characterizes it. Criminal contempt cases have been started against citizens for criticizing the Judges of Supreme court and high courts.

Punishment

Articles 129 & 215 enable the Supreme court and the High courts to punish its contempt.

Also, Section 12 of the 1971 Act enshrines punishment for contempt and expresses that contempt might be punished either by basic detainment of a half year or a fine of Rs. 2000 or both.

However, for imprisonment, the contempt has to be serious enough and likelihood of interference with the administration of justice has to be taken into consideration.

Further section 10 of the Act enables the High courts to punish for the contempt of courts subordinate to it.

Defences available

According to Section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 innocent publication and distribution of matter is not contempt. It says that a person is not guilty of contempt for publication of any matters which interferes or may interfere with the administration of justice if such person was not aware that the matter was pending before the court and says that any matter published relating to a civil or criminal proceeding will not constitute contempt if such proceeding is not pending before the court.

Under Section 4 a person is not guilty of contempt for “fair and accurate report of a judicial proceeding”. This is essential since people have a right to know about a judicial proceeding to the extent that it does not invade the privacy of any party related to the proceeding.

Under Section 5, fair criticism on the merits of any case that has been finally adjudicated does not constitute contempt. In Re: S. Mulgaokar vs. Unknown (1978) Court held that judiciary cannot be immune from fair criticism, and contempt action is to be used only when an “obvious misstatement” with “malicious intent” seeks to bring down public confidence in the courts or seeks to influence the courts.

Under Section 7 fair and accurate reporting of a proceeding of a court “in chambers or in the camera” is not contempt except when the publication of publication is prohibited by a specific law or when the court on grounds of public policy specially prohibits the publication of a proceeding.

The Prashant Bhushan case

In Re Prashant Bhushan & Anr., Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan was pronounced guilty of contempt by the Supreme Court. It was held that tweets by the Senior Advocate was in Contempt because as per the Court, the tweet criticized the Chief Justice of India in his capacity as the Chief Justice and not as an individual. The court stated that the tweet had the potential to shatter public faith in the Judiciary which according to the Court undermines the dignity and authority of the Judiciary.

Court further stated that an attack on the Supreme Court not only shakes a litigant’s confidence but also of other judges in the country.

The court held that “an attempt to shake the foundation of the Judiciary needs to be “dealt with an iron hand” as the tweets had the effect of destabilizing the Foundation of Indian Democracy.”

Conclusion

Civil contempt is important since many willful disobedient litigants disregard court orders and cannot be let-off else it would have serious ramifications on the administration of justice and faith of people in the judiciary. Confidence and faith of the people in the judiciary is essential for the existence of Rule of Law. Criminal contempt, however, as per experts should be revised if not completely removed from the statute because it has the tendency to be misused to curb Freedom of Speech and expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution and the language is vague enough to encompass within its sweep legitimate criticism as well. Framed with colonial assumptions and objects such statute has no place in a democracy.

References

Primary Sources

  • Statutes

Contempt of Courts Act, 1971

  • Articles

Article 129 in The Constitution Of India

Article 42(2) in the Constitution Of India

  • Judgments

In Re: Prashant Bhushan & Anr.

Written By: Utkarsh Singh

College: Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University (2nd Year/3rd Semester).

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