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Tracing the power of contempt of Court in India

Contempt of court often referred to ‘contempt’ is an offense of disobedience to or disrespectable towards the law of court and its offices in the form of behaviour that opposes authority, justice and dignity of court. In India, the concept of contempt of court is defined in section 2(a) of the contempt of court act, 1971 which has broadly described it as civil contempt or criminal contempt. It may be a person wilfully not obeying the court orders. Someone who breached court orders may force a judge to impose fine or jail to the individual. Let’s talk about Hong Kong, where all judges of the High Court, District Court have power to impose punishments for contempt of court. Use of abusive language in court may force a magistrate to impose imprisonment for 6 months. 

The recent confrontation between PIL Lawyer Prashant Bhushan and the supreme court on initiating proceedings over a tweet has raised some paramount issues on contempt jurisdiction in India and freedoms of citizens.  Also, the issue between Calcutta High court judge CS Karnan and supreme court on contempt court added to its significance .On the other hand, Justice Kurain Joseph of the supreme court of India has said that the trial by the media on pending cases is tantamount to contempt of court. Beside all these, there are various allegations that the superior courts routinely misuse the power to publish for contempt of court more to cover up their own misdeeds than to uphold the majesty for the law.

In India, contempt of court is of two types : Civil Contempt  and Criminal Contempt.

Civil contempt

  • Under Section 2 (b) of contempt of court act 1971 
  • Civil Contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any order, judgment, direction, or processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to court.

Criminal contempt

  •  Under section 2(c) of contempt of court act 1971.
  • Criminal contempt is defined as the publication of any matter by words spoken or written or by the gesture or by the signs or by visible representation.

Limitation on the action for contempt of court: The proceeding of contempt shall be initiated by the court, either on its own motion or otherwise, before the expiry of the period of 1 year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed .The act shall not be applied to contempt of Nyaya Panchayats or other villages courts. Even interfering with administration of justice is contempt.

There are few cases of contempt of court: in the case of Utal Kumar das versus court of the munsiff, this case is of non –rendering of assistance, although the court has the order to render assistance. Decree executed by the court to deliver immovable property but because of certain obstruction, the defendant failed to do so. Hence, he was held liable for disobeying the orders of the civil court.

Another case was of Jaswant Singh Versus Virender Singh, in this case an advocate makes caste derogatory and scandalous attack on the judge of the high court. An application was filed by an election petitioner in the high court, who was an advocate. He wanted to seek the stay for further argument in the election petition .These things caused an attack on the judicial proceeding of the high court and had the tendency to scandalize the court.

The contempt of court is a legislative instrument that governs the law of court of India. On the other side it helps in maintaining the sanctity of the most reserved area of the democracy.

-Manisha Shukla

Edited by Sankalp Garg