All you wanted to know about the Contempt of Courts Act
By Dr GB Reddy
- What is Contempt of Court?
Anything that curtails or impairs the freedom of limits of the judicial proceedings.
Conduct that tends to bring the authority and administration of law into disrespect or disregard or interferes with or prejudices parties or their witnesses during litigation.
Words spoken or written which obstruct or tend to obstruct the administration of justice.
Publishing words which tend to bring the administration of justice into contempt, to prejudice the fair trial of any cause or matter, which is the subject of civil or criminal proceeding or in anyway obstructs the cause of justice.
Contempt of Court under Constitution :
- Art. 129: Supreme Court to be a court of record—The Supreme 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.
- Art. 215: High courts to be courts of record—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.
- Art.144: Civil and judicial authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court—All authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.
- Art.141: Law declared by Supreme Court to be binding on all courts—The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India.
- Art. 142: Enforcement of decrees and orders of Supreme Court and orders as to discovery, etc— (1) The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe.
- Art.261 (1): Full faith and credit shall be given throughout the territory of India to public acts, records and judicial proceedings of the Union and of every State.
Salient features of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971
Objectives: (a) To define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempts of court; (b) To uphold the majesty and dignity of law courts and ensure their image in the minds of the public is in no way whittled down.
- Sec. 2 (a) of the act deals with “contempt of court”, which means civil contempt or criminal contempt.
- Sec 2 (b) defines “civil contempt”, which 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.
- Sec 2 (c) defines “criminal contempt”, which 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—
- (i) scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court; or
- (ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
- (iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
- Sec 3 says innocent publication and distribution of matter is not contempt.
- Sec 4 says fair and accurate report of judicial proceeding is not contempt.
- Sec 5 says fair criticism of a judicial act does not attract contempt.
- Sec 6 says complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts is not contempt if the statement is made in good faith.
- Sec 7 says publication of information relating to proceedings in chambers or in camera is not contempt, except in certain cases.
- Sec 9 says the contempt act does not imply enlar-gement of the scope of contempt.
- Sec 10 deals with power of high court to punish contempt of subordinate courts—Every high court shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority, in accordance with the same procedure and practice, in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it as it has and exercises in respect of contempt of itself; provided that no high court shall take cognizance of a contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate to it where such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
- Sec 11 deals with power of high court to try offenses committed or offenders found outside its jurisdiction—A high court shall have jurisdiction to inquire into or try a contempt of itself or of any court subordinate to it, whether the contempt is alleged to have been committed within or outside the local limits of its jurisdiction , and whether the person alleged to be guilty of contempt is within or outside such limits.
- Sec 12 deals with punishment for contempt of court—(1) Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act or in any other law, a contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both—provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.
Explanation: An apology shall not be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or conditional if the accused makes it bonafide.
- Sec 14 deals with procedure where contempt is in the face of Supreme Court or a high court—
(1) When it is alleged, or appears to Supreme Court or high court upon its own view, that a person has been guilty of contempt committed in its presence or hearing, the court may cause such person to be detained in custody, and, at any time before the rising of the court, on the same day, or as early as possible thereafter, shall—
(a) cause him to be informed in writing of the contempt with which he is charged;
(b) afford him an opportunity to make his defence to the charge;
(c) after taking such evidence as may be necessary or as may be offered by such person and after hearing him, proceed, either forthwith or after adjournment, to determine the matter of the charge; and
(d) make such order for the punishment or discharge of such person as may be just.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub- section (1), where a person charged with contempt under that sub-section applies, whether orally or in writing, to have the charge against him tried by some Judge other than the Judge or Judges in whose presence or hearing the offence is alleged to have been committed, and the Court is of opinion that it is practicable to do so and that in the interests of proper administration of justice the application should be allowed, it shall cause the matter to be placed, together with a statement of the facts
of the case, before the chief justice for such directions as he may think fit to issue as respects the trial thereof.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, in any trial of a person charged with contempt under sub-section (1) which is held, in pursuance of a direction given under sub-section (2), by a judge other than the Judge or Judges in whose presence or hearing the offence is alleged to have been committed, it shall not be necessary for the Judge or Judges in whose presence or hearing the offence is alleged to have been committed to appear as a witness and the statement placed before the Chief Justice under sub- section (2) shall be treated as evidence in the case.
(4) Pending the determination of the charge, the Court may direct that a person charged with contempt under this section shall be detained in such custody as it may specify—
Provided that he shall be released on bail, if a bond for such sum of money as the Court thinks sufficient is executed with or without sureties conditioned that the person charged shall attend at the time and place mentioned in the bond and shall continue to so attend until otherwise directed by the Court.
Provided further that the Court may, if it thinks fit, instead of taking bail from such person, discharges him on his executing a bond without sureties for his attendance as aforesaid.
l Sec 15 deals with cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases—In the case of a criminal contempt, other than a contempt referred to in Section 14, the Supreme Court or the High Court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by:
(a) the Advocate-General, or
(b) any other person, with the consent in writing of the Advocate General.
(2) In the case of any criminal contempt of a subordinate court, the High Court may take action on a reference made to it by the subordinate court or on a motion made by the Advocate-General or, in relation to a Union territory, by such Law Officer as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf.
l Sec 17 deals with procedure after cognizance—(1) Notice of every proceeding under Section 15 shall be served personally on the person charged, unless the court for reasons to be recorded directs
Sec 18 deals with procedure to decide contempt of Court—(1) Every case of criminal contempt under Section 15 shall be heard and determined by a Bench of not less than two Judges.
Sec 19 deals with appeals—(1) An appeal shall lie as of right from any order or decision of High Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction to punish for contempt—
(a) where the order or decision is that of a single Judge, to a Bench of not less than two Judges of
(b) where the order or decision is that of a Bench, to the Supreme Court.
(4) An appeal under sub-section (1) shall be filed
(a) in the case of an appeal to a Bench of the High Court, within thirty days;
(b) in the case of an appeal to the Supreme Court, within sixty days, from the date of the order appealed against.
Sec 20 deals with the limitation period for actions of contempt—no court shall initiate any proceedings of contempt, either on its own motion or otherwise, after the expiry of a period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.
Essentials of civil contempt
The elements needed to establish a contempt are:
1. the making of a valid court order,
2. knowledge of the order by respondent,
3. ability of the respondent to render compliance, and
4. willful disobedience of the order.
—The writer is a lawyer and professor at Osmania University. His brilliant academic record includes three Gold Medals in LLB and one in LLM. He has authored 18 books.