Context: The Karnataka High Court ordered issue of notice to the Union government on a PIL petition, filed by four eminent personalities, challenging the constitutional validity of a provision of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

About the petition:

  • The petitioners have argued that Section 2(c)(i) of the Act violates the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).
  • It makes “scandalising or tends to scandalising courts” as a ground for contempt.
  • It does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).
  • Section 2(c)(i) creates a chilling effect on free speech and expression.
  • The offence of “scandalising the court” cannot be considered to be covered under the category of “contempt of court” under Article 19(2).
  • “The offence of ‘scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumptions and objects.
  • Violates natural justice: The judges may often be seen to be acting in their own cause, thus violating the principles of natural justice 

About Contempt of Court:

  • It refers to the offence of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court.
  • The objective is to safeguard the interests of the public if the authority of the Court is denigrated and public confidence in the administration of justice is weakened or eroded.
  • The Supreme Court and High Courts derive their contempt powers from the Constitution.
    • Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
    • Article 19: The Constitution also includes contempt of court as a reasonable restriction to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19.
  • The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, outlines the procedure in relation to investigation and punishment for contempt.
    • Section 2(c)(i) defines criminal contempt as publication or doing of any act that “scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court”.
    • Section 10 of the act defines the power of the High Court to punish contempts of its subordinate courts.
  • The Act divides contempt into:
    • Civil contempt: It refers to the willful disobedience of an order of any court.
    • Criminal contempt: It includes any act or publication which: Scandalises the court (broadly refers to statements or publications which have the effect of undermining public confidence in the judiciary), Prejudices any judicial proceeding, Interferes with the administration of justice in any other manner.

Contempt of Court

Points in Favour 


  • Still high number of Contempt Cases.
  • Upholding Judiciary’s Reputation.
  • Constitutional backing for Contempt Power.
  • The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 provide adequate safeguards
  • Law Commission Report on Contempt of Court examined whether the definition of contempt in the Act should be restricted to civil contempt, i.e., wilful disobedience of judgments of court. The Commission concluded that there was no requirement to amend the Act
  • Against Civil Liberties.
  • Wide Scope of Contempt.
  • Obsolete in foreign democracies. For example, England abolished the offence of “scandalising the court” in 2013.

Way ahead:

  • Restrict to civil contempt (Law Commission of India): Though, there is a need to retain the provision regarding the contempt of courts, the definition of contempt in the Contempt of Court Act should be restricted to civil contempt.
  • Revisit the law: In the era of social media, there is the need to revisit the law on criminal contempt.

What is Article 19?

  • Right to Freedom (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc)

(1) All citizens shall have the right

(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c) to form associations or unions;

(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;  

(f) omitted

(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

Restrictions on Right to Freedom

  • The law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the 
    • interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, 
    • the security of the State, 
    • friendly relations with foreign States, 
    • public order, decency or morality or in 
    • relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.