Recently, the Supreme Court of India started the procedures
for criminal contempt of court against attorney dissident Prashant Bhushan. The
disdain charges were held up with regards to the remark made via social media,
focusing on the current Chief Justice of India. The contempt power is required
to the court to rededicate the disobedience held against the court orders (civil
contempt) and also to remove the interference in the administration of justice
and clear threats to the judges.
The existence of concept of contempt is
important to insulate the judiciary administration from the unfair criticism and
also to prevent the reputation of judiciary in the public eye. However, this
concept raises dilemma between the contempt of law which scandalizes or tends to
scandalize the judiciary system and Article 19 of the Indian Constitution
(Freedom of Speech and Expression). Thus, the recent issue brought under
spotlight on the requirement for exploring the law on Contempt of Courts.
Key Points On Contempt Of Court:
- Contempt of Court refers to the offence of outraging the dignity of the
court or authority of the court.
- The Constitution of India gives the power to the Supreme Court and High
Court to exercise the contempt power against any person who outrages the
dignity of the judicial system.
- The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 provides the provisions for the
investigation and punishment for contempt of court.
- The Contempt Is Of Two Types:
- The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 was amended in 2006 to incorporate the
barrier of truth under Section 13 of the first enactment. Inferring that the
court must allow avocation by truth as a substantial barrier if it is
fulfilled that it is in the open intrigue.
- Further, innocent publication and distribution of some issue, reasonable
and sensible analysis of legal acts and remark on the regulatory side of the
legal executive don't add up to contempt of court.
Punishment For Contempt Of Court:
- The Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to punish for contempt
of court, either with basic detainment for a term as long as a half year or
with fine up to Rs. 2,000 or with both.
- In 1991, the Supreme Court decided that it has the power to punish for
contempt of itself as well as of high courts, subordinate courts and
councils working in the whole nation.
- Then again, High Courts have been given special power to punish contempt
of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act of
Against Civil Liberties:
- A law for criminal contempt get difference of opinion with India’s
Democratic system which acknowledge as freedom of speech and expression as a
- In This manner, the judiciary draws resemblance with the executive, in
using laws for a dissuasive effect on the freedom of speech.
- Former Justice of Supreme Court, V.R. Krishna Iyer, famously termed the
law contempt as having a vague and wandering jurisdiction, with uncertain
boundaries; contempt law, regardless of the public good, may unwittingly
trample upon civil liberties.
- Wide Scope of Contempt: the definition of criminal contempt in India is
extensive, and can be easily supplicate. Also, suo motu powers of the court
to commence such proceedings only set out to complicate matters.
- Further, the contempt of courts Act was amended in 2006, to add truth
and good faith as valid safeguards for contempt, but they are seldom
entertained by the judiciary.
- International Disuse of Contempt Doctrine: Already, contempt has
virtually become no longer in use in foreign democracies, with jurisdictions
recognizing that it is an archaic law, For example:
- England dissolve the offence of scandalizing the court in 2013.
- Canada ties its test for contempt to real, substantial immediate dangers
to the administration.
- American courts also no longer use the law of contempt in response
comments on judges or legal matters.
Arguments In Favour:
High Number of Contempt Cases:
- As still many of the contempt cases are pending in Supreme Court and
High Court, this shows that there is relevance of the existence of the
contempt of court law.
Affecting Judiciary’s Reputation:
- If any amendment in the definition of contempt is made then it will
reduce the reputation of court in front of the public eyes and also people
will start taking the courts for granted. Abolition of contempt law will
bring legislative gap.
Constitutional Source of Contempt Power:
- The Consitution of India gives the power to Supreme Court and High Court
to exercise the contempt. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 provides the
provisions related to the punishment and investigation. Thus, deletion of
the act will not impact the inherent powers of the Supreme Court and High
Court to exercise the contempt.
Impact on Subordinate Courts:
- As the Constitution of India allows the superior courts to punish for
their contempt, likewise, The Contempt of Court Act allows the High Court to
punish for the contempt for the subordinate courts.
There are many safeguards provisions also which protects against the misuse of
Some of the examples are:
- The act has the provision which lay down the list of cases that do not
amount to contempt and the cases of contempt which are not punishable.
- The courts will not prosecute all the cases of contempt.
The Law Commission of India held that there is a need to hold the arrangement
for the contempt of courts. Be that as it may, it additionally suggested the
meaning of contempt in the Contempt of Court Act ought to be confined to civil
contempt i.e. willful disobedience of the judicial system. Further, in the
period of internet life, other than the need to revisit to the law on criminal
contempt, even the test for contempt should be assessed.
Written By: Himanshu Kumar
- The ICFAI University, Dehradun