In India, Judiciary is considered a prestigious institution that protects and ensures the supremacy of law, protects individuals’ rights, settles conflicts, and prevents democracy from becoming an authoritative or dictatorial regime.
To protect the dignity and authority of the Courts in India and enable them to fairly administer and deliver justice to anyone who tries to interfere with the proceedings of the court, the judicial system in India has the authority to penalise any offenders who perform any such actions and can restrict one’s right to freedom of speech on the grounds of Contempt of Court.
Contempt of Court
We can find the origins of this law in the courts of the monarchs. The monarchs were believed to be the ones who were directly appointed by the gods and were the sovereign power of the state. The monarchs were the ones vested with the authority to pass judgement and provide justice, and interfering with these powers of the monarch was considered to hinder a divine process.
As the famous Indian polymath wrote in his book Arthashastra “Any person who exposes the king or insults his council or makes any type of bad attempt on the kings, then the tongue of that person should be cut off.” And “When a judge threatens, bullies or makes silence to any of the disputants in the court then he should be punished.”
The Contempt of Court Acts was first introduced in India in 1926. Through the enactment of The Contempt of Courts 1926, the High courts were vested with the power to penalise any Contempt against the subordinate courts under their jurisdiction. The Contempt of Court,1926 was then replaced by The Contempt of Courts Act 1952, which allowed other courts to penalise the offence of Contempt of Courts High Courts to different courts.
In 1961, a committee was formed under the leadership of H.N. Sanyal, Additional Solicitor General for the Government of India, to analyse the application of contempt laws in India. This committee recommended that the courts not initiate the contempt proceedings themselves, but instead, a law officer should be appointed, on whose recommendations such proceedings should be initiated.
These recommendations were then incorporated in The Contempt of Courts Act 1971, which was enacted by the parliament of India, which is the current legislation followed in offences dealing with the Contempt of courts in India.
There should be some elements required to convict a person for Contempt Of Court in India:
- A valid court order
- The respondent must know the order
- The respondent must be in a condition to render compliance to the order
- Display of wilful disobedience by the respondent
Civil Contempt is defined under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act as “willful disobedience to any judgement, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court”.Simply put, it is the type of Contempt done by a person when he fails to comply with an order issued by the court.
Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup
In this case, the court issued a decree for transfer of immovable property, but due to certain obstructions, failed to do so; hence the respondent was held liable for the CIvil Contempt of the competent civil Court.
Defences available for Civil Contempt
- Lack of knowledge of the court order
- When respondents did not do the disobedience willingly.
- The order disobeyed must be vague or ambiguous(R.N. Ramaul v. State of Himachal Pradesh)
- The order had more than one reasonable or rational interpretation
The definition of criminal Contempt given under Section 2(c) is “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.
- 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.
Criminal Contempt is Applicable
- When a person makes false statements to or about the Courts
- Attempts to disrupt or hinder the proceedings of the courts or administration of justice by in any manner
- Recording court proceedings without permission without the permission of the court
- Obstruction of officials of the court from performing their functions
- Any verbal abuse and accusations against the judges.
Under the Contempt of Court of India act, 1971, punishment for Contempt of Court is the same for criminal and civil Contempt. The act allows imprisonment for a maximum term of six months and a fine of ₹2000. The Contempt of Court of India act, 1971 allows discharging the accusation if an apology is made to the court. It is upon the court’s discretion to decide whether the apology is sufficient.
We have learned that willingly disobeying the orders of a court, hindering the court’s proceedings, or publications affecting the court’s dignity can amount to Contempt of Court and the difference between Civil and Criminal Contempt of Court.