Context: The Supreme Court, taking suo motu cognisance filed contempt of court case against public rights activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

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  • The court opinionated that the tweets by Mr. Bhushan undermined the prestige of the CJI office and portrayed the judiciary in a bad light.
  • The first tweet was a general comment on the role of some Chief Justices of India in the last six years, and second one targeted the current CJI based on a photograph.
  • As per the court if there is any issue with respect to the judgment delivered or procedure followed by the judiciary, then queries must be brought before the courts rather than humiliating the judiciary on social media platforms.
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution gives an individual freedom of speech and expression but the same is restricted on grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) which includes contempt of court.

Need for the contempt of court law:

  • To punish wilful disobedience to court orders (civil contempt), as well as interference in the administration of justice and overt threats to judges. 
  • The reason why the concept of contempt exists is to insulate the institution from unfair attacks and prevent a sudden fall in the judiciary’s reputation in the public eye.

Issues related to Contempt of Court

  • Against Right to Speech given under Article 19 (1)(a).
  • Most of the cases are of civil nature thus criminal contempt must be removed.
  • The Act is made by parliament while it is an inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under article 142 of Indian Constitution.
  • Cases where contempt of an individual is taken as contempt of court.
  • Each time the offence of ‘scandalising’ the court or lowering the court’s authority is invoked, some tend to believe that the court has something to hide.
    • It is a colonial era offence which should be removed now, even in Britain Scandalising of the court is no longer an offence of contempt from 2013.


  •  In an era in which social media are full of critics, commentators and observers who deem it necessary to air their views in many unrestrained and uninhibited ways, the higher judiciary should not really be expending its time and energy invoking its power to punish for contempt of itself. 
  • While it may not be reasonable to expect that the courts should ignore every allegation or innuendo, and every piece of scurrility, there is much wisdom in giving a wide latitude to publicly voiced criticism and strident questioning of the court’s ways and decisions.
  • In contemporary times, it is more important that courts are seen to be concerned about accountability, that allegations are scotched by impartial probes rather than threats of contempt action, and processes are transparent. 


Contempt of Court

Constitutional Background

  • Article 129: Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • Article 142(2): Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
  • Article 215: Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Contempt under the Indian law

  • In India, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, divides contempt into civil contempt and criminal contempt.
    • Civil contempt: It is a ‘wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a Court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court’.
    • Criminal contempt: It  is the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
      • Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court.
      • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding.
      • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Punishments for Contempt of Court

  • The Supreme Court in 1991, ruled that it has the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts and tribunals functioning in the entire country.
  • The High Courts have been given special powers to punish contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.

This means only the supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both.

Criticism allowed or not

  • The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, very clearly states that fair criticism of any case which has been heard and decided is not contempt.

Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006

  • The statute of 1971 has been amended by the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation.
  • Section 13: Restrict the powers of the court in that they were not to hold anyone in contempt unless it would substantially interfere with the due process of justice. 
    • The amendment further states that the court must permit ‘justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in public interest and the request for invoking the said defence is bona fide.’


  • The Law Commission of India in its 274th report to the Ministry of Law and Justice has suggested that Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution vest the Supreme Court and High Courts powers to investigate and punish the contemnor even in absence of any legislation outlining their procedural powers. 


Image Source: The Hindu