what-is-contempt-of-court

 

What is Contempt Of Court?

  • It refers to the offence of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court.
  • The expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution. 
  • However, the expression has been defined by the Contempt of Court Act of 1971.
  • According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt.

Purpose

  • Courts must be protected from tendentious attacks that lower its authority, defame its public image, and make the public lose its faith in its impartiality. 

Civil Vs Criminal Contempt

  • Civil Contempt:  Means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court. 
  • Criminal Contempt : Means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, 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; 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.

Constitutional Provision:

Supreme Court

Article 129

Confers power to punish for contempt of itself.

Article 142 (2)

Confers three different powers on the Supreme Court. They are:

(i) Securing the attendance of persons before it.

(ii) Discovery and production of documents.

(iii) Investigation and punishment of contempt of itself.

High Court

Article  215

Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Exceptions

  • Innocent publication and distribution of some matter
  • Fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings
  • Fair and reasonable criticism of judicial acts 
  • Comment on the administrative side of the judiciary

Arguments

 In Favour:

  • Protects Courts from attacks that lower its authority, defame its public image , and make the public lose its faith.
  • Exceptions mentioned above allow reasonable criticism.
  • The constitution allows HC to punish for the contempt of  subordinate courts. 

Against:

  • The definition of criminal contempt is couched in extremely wide language, facilitating the imposition of greater restraints on free press, at the discretion of the courts. 
  • It is entirely dependent on the opinions and predispositions of the judges. 
  • It constraints Freedom of Speech and Expression to all citizens as given in the Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. 
  • In India also the term “Scandalise” used in section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Court Act is not defined and contempt powers of the Supreme Court and High Courts are unlimited. This causes arbitrariness and increases the probability of its misuse. 
  • The Supreme Court can itself initiate a contempt proceeding where there is no provision to appeal against its judgment. Though there is a provision of review in such cases, the petition lies before the same bench and thus, there is less probability of it being considered without any prejudice.

Recent Cases

  • News: The Supreme Court has held the advocate Prashant Bhushan as guilty of contempt of court for his two tweets criticising the judiciary.
  • Bhushan's first tweet pertained to a picture of Chief Justice of India in which he is seen sitting on a high-end motorcycle. In the second tweet, Bhushan gave an opinion on the role of the last four chief justices of India in the context of the state of affairs in the country.
  • News: Attorney General for India granted consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against a comedian.
  • Procedure:
  • As per Contempt of Courts Act 1971, in the case of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, and in the case of High Courts, the Advocate General, may bring in a motion for initiating a case of criminal contempt.
  • However, if the motion is brought by any other person, the consent of the Attorney General or the Advocate General in writing is required.
  • AG’s consent:
  • It is mandatory when a private citizen wants to initiate a case of contempt of court against a person. If AG denies, the petition ends there itself.
  • The objective behind AG’s consent is to save the judicial time of the court as it will be wasted if a frivolous petition occurs.
  • AG’s consent is not required when the court itself initiates a contempt of court case (suo motu) as it did in the Prashant Bhushan case.