According to the Oxford Dictionary, contempt is the state of being despised or
dishonored; disgrace. Any conduct that tends to bring the authority and
administration of law into disrespect or disregard or to interfere with or
prejudice parties or their witness during litigation is considered to be
contempt of court, says Oswald. Contempt is defined by Halsbury, as consisting
of words spoken or written which obstruct or tends to obstruct the
administration of justice.
The Indian legislature does not provide with a concrete definition of contempt,
however section 2(a) of The Contempt of Courts,1971 says ‘contempt of court
means civil contempt or criminal contempt’. Section 2(b) & section 2(c) of The
Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines civil and criminal contempt. Although the
legislature has not defined what amounts to contempt, it has defined civil and
criminal contempt. Thus contempt cannot be confine to four walls of a
definition. Therefore, what would offend the court’s dignity and what would
lower the court’s prestige is thus a matter which can be decided by the court
itself and it’s for the court to deal with each case of contempt under the facts
and circumstances of that case.
Kinds of Contempt
Contempt of court are classified under three broad categories, according to Lord
1. Scandalizing the court itself.
2. Abusing parties who are concerned in the cause, in the presence of
3. Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.
However, in India, contempt is classified under two major categories:
1. Civil contempt
2. Criminal contempt
According to section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 civil contempt
means willful disobedience to any judgement, decree, direction, order, writ or
other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
Thus from the abovementioned definition it can be ascertained that there are two
important essentials to constitute civil contempt:
1. Disobedience of any judgement, decree, direction, order, writ or other
process of a court or an undertaking given to the court.
There should be disobedience of a valid order to constitute contempt of court.
An order includes all kinds of judgements, orders-final, preliminary, ex-parte,
contempt order. Disobedience of a decree, direction, writ or other process of a
court, or an undertaking given to the court, will also amount to contempt of
court. It was held by the Supreme Court, in the case of H.Puninder v. K. K.
Sethi, that in absence of the stay order in appeal or revision of higher
court, the order appealed against should be complied with, subject to any order
passed at later stage, otherwise it is open for the contempt court to proceed
further on merit of the contempt case.
A different view was upheld by the Supreme Court in case of interim relief/stay
order. The Supreme Court, in the case of State of Jammu and Kashmir v. Mohammad Yakub Khan, held that where stay vacation application has been promptly filed
by the respondent against whom the stay order has been passed and the same is
pending for disposal the court shouldn't proceed in the contempt case unless
and until the stay vacation application has been decided.
So far as the breach of undertaking as contempt of court is concerned, the basis
behind this is that the contempter obtains a beneficial order for himself from
the court, by giving an undertaking and if he fails to honor the undertaking at
a later stage, he plays a serious fraud on the court and thereby interferes with
the administration of justice by bringing the court into disrespect.
An undertaking can be given to the court in two ways:
· By moving an application or filing an affidavit before the court
clearly stating the terms of the undertaking.
· By giving s clear and express oral undertaking which is incorporated
by the court in the order.
A willful breach of an undertaking, given according to the abovementioned ways,
would amount to contempt of court.
2. The Disobedience or breach must be willful, deliberate and intentional.
Mere disobedience or breach of the court’s order by the person is not sufficient
to constitute civil contempt. Such a disobedience or breach must be willful,
deliberate and intentional. In order to exercise its power to punish the
contemnor the court has to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the
contemnor has willfully, deliberately and intentionally violated the court’s
No court including contempt court is entitled to take trivialities and
technicalities into account while finding fault with the conduct of the person
against whom contempt proceeding is taken.
Where the order has been substantially complied with and a reasonable
explanation has been provided for the delay in compliance with the order, the
contempt will not lie as the violation is not willful and deliberate.
According to section 2(c) of The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, criminal contempt
means the publication (whether by word, spoken or written, or by signs, or by
visible representation, 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 obstruct or tends to obstruct,
the administration of justice in any other manner.
Thus from the abovementioned definition it can be ascertained that there are
four important essentials to constitute criminal contempt:
1. Publication of any matter.
The word publication has been given a very wide meaning so far as contempt of
court is concerned. It includes words (spoken/written), signs and visible
representation. It also includes the publication of any material in the
newspaper and magazines, the broadcasting of any material on the radio and
exhibition of anything in cinemas, theaters and television.
If these materials contain anything which scandalizes or lowers or tends to
scandalize or lower the authority of any court, prejudices or interferes with
the due course of any judicial proceeding or interferes or tends to interfere
with administration of justice, it will amount to criminal contempt of the
2. Scandalizing or lowering the authority of the court.
Scandalizing might manifest itself in various ways but in substance, it is an
attack on individual judges in particular or the court as a whole, with or
without reference to a particular case, by casting unwarranted and defamatory
aspersions upon the character or the ability of the judges. Such conduct is
punished as criminal contempt for the reason that it tends to create distrust in
the minds of common people and thereby shatters confidence of the people in the
The Supreme Court made it clear, in the case of Arundhati Roy, that criticism
which undermines the dignity of the court can't be said to be fair criticism and
does not fall under the ambit of freedom of speech and expression as is
guaranteed by Article 19 (1)(a) of Constitution of India. Thus prosecution of
persons for scandalizing the court is not prohibited by constitutional right of
freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a).
Writing/drafting in pleading or petition by which defamatory allegations have
been levelled against a judge in particular or court as a whole, would amount to
criminal contempt, held the Supreme Court.
In case of U.P Residential Employee Cooperative Society v. New Okhla Industrial
Development Authority, the Supreme Court held that filing a false affidavit
in the court with a view to mislead the court will amount to criminal contempt.
3. Prejudice or interference with the due course of any judicial
Any publication which prejudices or interferes with the due course of any
judicial proceeding would amount to criminal contempt of court. Media trial or
trial by newspaper is not considered proper because it effects the fairness of
trial and is likely to cause interference with the administration of justice.
The knowledge of pendency of the case and reasonable grounds to believe that the
case in pending is sufficient to make out criminal contempt and the intention
and motive of the publisher behind the content of publication is not relevant
for the purpose of criminal contempt. If it lowers the authority of the court
and causes interference with the due course of judicial proceeding it would
amount to criminal contempt.
In civil cases, the pendency starts with the filing of the plaint and in
criminal cases, with the filing of a charge sheet or the issuance of summons or
warrants. The pendency continues till the case is decided. In case an
appeal/revision is filed, pendency continues till the appeal or revision is
decided. If appeal/revision is not filed, pendency continues till the period of
limitation for filing the same has not expired. Once it expires, pendency is
4. Interference/Obstruction with the administration of justice in any other
The publication or doing of any act which interferes or obstructs or tend to
interfere and obstruct in the administration of justice in any other manner,
would amount to criminal contempt of court. This clause is a residuary clause,
covering those cases of criminal contempt which are not expressly covered by
section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act.
The term 'administration of justice' is much wider than the term 'course of
judicial proceedings'. Every person in India is entitled to approach the
court in order to secure justice and for the redressal of his grievances and the
court has to decide dispute between the parties as per law and equity.
Any conduct which tends to prevent or actually prevents a party to approach the
court, amounts to criminal contempt of court, for eg. writing a threatening
letter to litigating party or his counsel preventing him from attending the
court, writing a letter to the judge or approaching him in order to influence
his judicial conscience or approaching a counsel for undue favor are all
examples of interference with administration of justice and are contempt of
An advocate is an officer of the court and undue interference with the advocate
in the discharge of his professional functions amounts to contempt of court.
Casting aspersions on counsel or approaching him for not defending a particular
person amounts to criminal contempt of court.
It was held by the Supreme Court in case of J. R Parashar v. Prashant
, that holding a dharma or resorting to strike by itself may not
amount to contempt of court but if in doing so the presiding officer of the
court, its staff, the police personnel and the litigating parties are prevented
from approaching the court, it will amount to interference in the administration
of justice and will be criminal contempt of the court.
Punishment Under The Contempt of Court Act
Section 12 of the act deals with the punishment for contempt of court. It
provides as follows-
12. 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: -(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 bona fide.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in
force, no court shall impose a sentence in excess of that specified in
sub-section (1) for any contempt either in respect of itself or of a court
subordinate to it.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, where a person is found
guilty of a civil contempt, the court, if it considers that a fine will not meet
the ends of justice and that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary shall,
instead of sentencing him to simple imprisonment, direct that he be detained in
a civil prison for such period not exceeding six months as it may think fit.
(4) Where the person found guilty of contempt of court in respect of any
undertaking given to a court is a company, every person who, at the time the
contempt was committed, was in charge of, and was responsible to, the company
for the conduct of business of the company, as well as the company, shall be
deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be enforced, with the
leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of each such person:
Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person
liable to such punishment if he proves that the contempt was committed without
his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent its commission.
(5) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (4), where the contempt of
court referred to therein has been committed by a company and it is proved that
the contempt has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is
attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or
other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer
shall also be deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be
enforced, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of such
director, manager, secretary or other officer. Explanation.-For the purposes of
sub-sections (4) and (5),-
(a) “company” means any body corporate and includes a firm or other association
of individuals; and
(b) “director”, in relation to a firm, means a partner in the firm.
Provided that, nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such
person liable to punishment, if he proves that the contempt was
committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to
prevent its commission.
Period of Limitation
Section 20 deals with period of limitation for initiating contempt proceeding.
Section 20 provides that no court shall initiate contempt proceedings either on
its own notions or otherwise after the expiry of one year from the date on which
contempt is alleged to have been committed. The period of limitation is
applicable both in civil as well as criminal contempt. Contempt proceedings can
be initiated either by filing an application or by the court itself suo moto. In
both the cases, contempt proceedings must be initiated within one year from the
date on which contempt is alleged to have been committed.
In criminal contempt, contempt is alleged to have been committed the
moment scandalization of court or interference with the administration of
justice takes place. Consequently, the period of limitation immediately starts
running. But, in case of civil contempt the period of limitation does not start
from the date of the order. It starts running after expiry of period mentioned
in the order after service of certified copy of the order upon the other side.
If no time limit is mentioned in the order, the order should be complied within
a reasonable period. The term “reasonable period” has been interpreted to be a
period of three months from the date of service of certified copy.
Defences In Civil Contempt
A person charged with civil contempt of court can take the following defences-
· No knowledge of order
The general principle is that a person cannot be held guilty of contempt in
respect of an order of which he claims to be unaware. Law casts a duty upon a
successful party to serve the certified copy of the order on the other side
either personally or by registered speed post. Notwithstanding the fact that the
order has been passed in presence of both the parties or their counsels.
So, it can be successfully pleaded in defense that the certified copy of the
order was not formally served on the alleged contemnor.
· Disobedience or breach was not willful
It can be pleaded that although disobedience or breach of the order has taken
place but it was due to accidental, administrative or other reasons beyond the
control of the party concerned. This plea can be successful only when the order
has been complied with and a reasonable explanation has been given for non-
The Court may assess the intention of the party from the act done in the same
way asa reasonable prudent man would assess in the given circumstances.
· Order disobeyed is vague or ambiguous
If the order passed by court is vague or ambiguous or its not specific or
complete, it would be a defense in the contempt or alleged contemnor can raise a
plea in defense that the order whose contempt is alleged cannot be complied with
as the same is impossible. In case of R.N.Ramaul vs. State of Himanchal
Pradesh the Supreme Court directed the respondent corporation to restore the
promotion of the petitioner in service from a particular date.
This direction was complied with by the respondent corporation by treating him
as promoted from that particular date which was given in the order. But, the
monetary benefits for that period were not paid by the respondent corporation
and as such the contempt petition was filed. Respondent Corporation took a
defense that monetary benefits were not paid to the petitioner because there was
no direction in the order for payment of monetary benefit and they cannot be
held liable for contempt.
In case of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. vs. State of Bihar
, the Supreme Court
clarified the legal position by holding that where the order is incomplete and
ambiguous, the parties should approach the original court and get the order
clarified by getting the ambiguity removed.
· Order involves more than on reasonable interpretation.
If the order whose contempt is alleged involves more than one reasonable and
rational interpretation and the respondent adopts one of them and acts in
accordance with one such interpretation, he cannot be held liable for contempt
of court. However, this defense is available only when a bonafide question of
interpretation arises. The intention of bonafide interpretation can be gathered
from the fact that the order has been complied with by adopting one such
interpretation. In case of T.M.A. Pai Foundation vs. State of Karnataka it
was held that this defense won’t be allowed if a doubt about the order has been
deliberately created when actually there is no doubt at all.
· Compliance of the order is impossible.
In proceedings for civil contempt, it would be a valid defense that the
compliance of the order is impossible. However, the cases of impossibility must
be distinguished from the cases of mere difficulty. In case of Amar Singh v. K.P.Geetakrishnan,
the court granted certain pensioner benefits to a large number of retired
employees with effect from a particular back date. The plea of impossibility was
taken on the ground that the implementation of the order would result in heavy
financial burden on the exchequer. However, the plea of impossibility was
rejected by the court with the observation that although it’s difficult to
comply with the order but it’s not impossible to comply and therefore, it should
be complied with.
· The order has been passed without jurisdiction.
If the order whose contempt is alleged, has been passed by a court which had no
jurisdiction to pass it, the disobedience or violation would not amount to
contempt of court for the reason that the order passed without jurisdiction is a
void order and binds nobody. In case of Krishna Devi Malchand V. Bombay Environmental Action Group
, the Supreme
Court clarified the legal position and held that if the order is void, it cannot
be ignored by the party aggrieved by it. The litigating party cannot assume the
role of Appellate or Provisional authority in order to say that the order is not
binding upon them. Consequently, if any party feels that the order has been
passed by a court which had no jurisdiction to pass it, he should approach the
same court for seeking such declaration by moving an application for recall of
the order. If the application is rejected, the Appellate Court can be approached
for such declaration. In case of State of Jammu and Kashmir vs. Mohd. Yaqub
Khan, the Supreme Court has held that where stay petition application is
pending, the Contempt Court should not proceed with the contempt case till the
stay vacation application is decided. So, in case of interim order having been
passed by a court which has no jurisdiction, a stay vacation application can be
promptly file, raising the plea of lack of jurisdiction.
In Dr. H. Puninder Singh vs. K.K. Sethi
, the Supreme Court has held that if
there is any stay order passed by the Appellate Court, the contempt court cannot
proceed. However, if no interim order application is passed by the Appellate
Court, the court can proceed and the order of the original court should be
complied with subject to any order passed by the Appellate Court at the final
Defences Against Criminal Contempt
· Innocent publication and distribution of matter.
S.3 deals with this defense. If a criminal contempt is initiated against a
person on the ground that he is responsible for publication or for distribution
of publication which prejudices or interferes with the pending proceedings, the contemptner may take the following steps:
(a) he may plead under S. 3(1) that at the time of publication, he had no
reasonable ground for believing that the proceeding was pending.
(b) he may plead under S.3(2) that at the time of publication, no such
proceeding was pending.
(c) he may plead under S.3(3) that at the time of distribution of publication,
he had no reasonable ground for believing that the matter (published or
distributed by him) contained or was likely to contain any material which
interfered or obstructed the pending proceeding or administration of justice.
· Fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings
S.4 of the Act provides that a person should not be held guilty of Contempt of
Court for publishing a fair and accurate report of any judicial proceedings or
any stage thereof. S. 7 of the Act provides Exception to the general principle
that justice should be administered in public. Sub sections (1) and (2) of S.7
provide that a person shall not be guilty of Contempt of Court for publishing
the text or for publishing fair and accurate summary of the whole or any part of
the order made by the court in camera (in Chamber) unless the court has
expressly prohibited the publication of the proceedings on the grounds of:
a) Public Policy
b) Public Order
c) Security of the State
d) Information relating to a secret process, discovery or invention, or, in
exercise of the power vested in it.
· Fair criticism of judicial act
S.5 provides that a person shall not be guilty of criminal contempt for
publishing any fair comment on the merits of any case which has been finally
decided. A defense can be taken that the statement complained of (in respect of
publication of which criminal contempt has been initiated) must be in respect of
a case which has been finally decided and not in respect of pending proceedings.
Moreover, the statement should come from the mouth of a knowledgeable person in
the field of law and not from a litigating party which has lost the case. In
short, fair criticism means that criticism which while criticizing the act of a
Judge does not impute any ulterior motive to him. In case of Arundhati Roy, the
Supreme Court has held that judicial criticism cannot be invoked under the garb
of Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution
The Supreme Court further clarified that fair criticism of the judiciary as a
whole or the conduct of a Judge in particular may not amount to contempt if it
is made in good faith and in public interest. To ascertain the 'good faith' and
'public interest' the Courts have to take into consideration all the surrounding
circumstances including the person's knowledge in the field of law, the
intention behind the comment and the purpose sought to be achieved. A common
citizen cannot be permitted to comment upon the Courts in the name of criticism
by seeking the help of Freedom of speech and expression for the reason that if
it is not checked, it would destroy the judicial institution itself.
In the present case, Arundhati Roy was not found to have knowledge or study
regarding the working of the Supreme Court or judiciary of the country and so
the defense of fair comment in good faith and public interest taken by her was
rejected and she was punished for criminal contempt.
· Bonafide complain against the presiding officer of a subordinate
S.6 provides that a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court in respect
of any statement made by him by way of complaint in good faith concerning the
presiding officer of any sub-ordinate court to the High Court or to the Court to
which he is sub-ordinate. The protection of this section will be available only
when it is proved that the complaint was made in good faith.
In ascertaining the 'good faith' the intention and the purpose sought to be
achieved by complaint will be taken into consideration and it would be ensured
that the same was not made with ulterior motive.
· No substantial interference with due course of justice.
By the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006, a new Section 13 has been
substituted in place of existing S.13. This new S. 13 provides that
“notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, no
Court should impose a sentence for Contempt of Court unless it is satisfied that
the Contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes or tends to
interfere with the due course of justice.”
· Justification by truth.
The amended S.13(2) provides that the Court may permit justification by truth as
a valid defense in any proceeding for criminal contempt if it is satisfied that
it is in public interest. Thus, truth is now a defense if it is in the public
interest and bonafide.
· The statement complained of is open to different interpretations.
If the words complained of are open to two different interpretations and one of
them indicates contempt while the other does not, the contemptner cannot be
punished for non-compliance of one interpretation. But, in order to succeed in
this defense, it is necessary to prove that the order was complied with in
respect of one interpretation. If the order is not complied with at all, it
cannot be proved that there was a reasonable doubt as to the interpretation of
the order. On the other hand, it will be presumed that a doubt is deliberately
sought to be created so as to avoid the compliance of the order.
· Defamation of the judge personally.
If the publication or other act is merely a defamatory attack on the judge and
is not intended to interfere with the administration of justice, it will not be
taken as contempt of court.
The publication or other Act amounts to Contempt of Court only when it has nexus
with the functioning of a judge. The statement complained of may amount to
Contempt of Court only when it is made against a judge in his judicial capacity
in the exercise of his judicial functions. However, in such a situation a judge
is not remediless and he has the same remedies available which are available to
a common man. A defamatory attack on a judge may be Libel or Slander and he has
a discretion to proceed for Defamation in civil, criminal or simultaneous
proceedings against the person concerned but he cannot be punished summarily
under criminal contempt of court. The object of Contempt law is to protect the
confidence of the people in the administration of justice and its object is not
to prevent attacks upon the personal reputation of any individual judge. So, any
personal attack upon the judge unconnected with the office he holds, is dealt
with under the ordinary rules of Libel and Slander.
Remedy Against The Order of PunishmentFollowing remedies are available against the punishment order under Contempt
The contemner may under apology to the court and the court may
remit the punishment awarded for contempt, if the court is satisfied that the
apology has been made with real sense of repentance.
In case of A.K.Pandey, the Supreme Court made it clear that the court is not
bound to accept the apology unless there is a feeling of repentance in the contemner.
In case of M.C.Mehta vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court
further clarified that apology should not be used as a weapon of defense in case
of contempt. The apology must be tendered at the earliest opportunity. An
apology will not be treated as an apology if tendered at a time when court is
going to impose a punishment. However, along with apology the defense taken by contemner can be pleaded. Explanations to section 12(1) has enabled the
contemner to put forward his defense while pleading apology as this explanation
has provided that apology should not be rejected on the ground that its
qualified or conditional if the accused makes it bonafide. Apology will help the
contemner if his explanation has been rejected.
In case of Haridas V. Smt. Usharani
 the apology tendered by contemner was
not found to be genuine as the contemner repeatedly tried to assert that
whatever he said was correct and he would prove it. And at the same time he
tender apology. His apology was not found to be genuine and he was punished for
Contempt of court Act, 1971 has provided for the statutory
right of appeal against the orders of High Court passed in the exercise of its
jurisdiction to punish for the contempt of the court. Prior to this act there
was no statutory right of appeal but even at that point of time the person
punished under the Contempt of Court Act was not remediless. The High Court
itself could grant the certificate under Article 134 of the Indian Constitution
and where the High Court refused to grant such certificate, the Supreme Court
could entertain the appeal by granting special leave under Article 136 of the
Constitution of India.
So, the right of appeal prior to 1971 was dependent on the discretion of the
court and it was not by the way of right. Section 19(1) of the act provides
right of only one appeal. It provides that an appeal shall lie as of right from
any order or decision of the High Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction to
punish for contempt. If the order of punishment has been passed by single judge
of High Court, there is right of appeal to the division bench of not less than
two judges of High Court. If the order of punishment is passed by a division on
bench then appeal will lie in Supreme Court.
However, in case of punishment order passed by single judge, the right of appeal
gets exhausted once the appeal is filed before the division bench and there is
no further right of appeal under the Contempt of Court Act.
However, the remedy
under Article 136 of Constitution will still be available and the Supreme Court
may grant leave to appeal under Article 136. Section 19(4) provides for the
period of limitation for preferring an appeal.
It provides that an appeal under
Article 19(1) shall be filed within thirty days to the division bench of High
Court and in case the order of punishment has been passed by division bench of
High Court then within sixty days to the Supreme Court from the date of the
order appealed against. Section 19(2) deals with the power of Appellate Court
during the pendency of appeal. It provides that during the pendency of the
appeal the Appellate Court may pass the following orders:
1. The execution of the punishment order shall remain suspended.
2. If appellant is under confinement imprisonment, he may be released on
3. The appeal may be heard notwithstanding that the appellant has not
perched his contempt.
Section 19(3) provided that an appeal under section 19 will lie at the instance
of the person aggrieved. A proceeding for contempt is between the court and the contemner. A person who moves the application for initiating contempt proceeding
does not come within the category of person aggrieved and therefore he has no
locus to file an appeal, if his contention for initiating the contempt
proceeding is rejected. If a person is found guilty for contempt of court, an
appeal will lie under section 19 that the instance of person who is found guilty
and is consequently punished. But, if a person is not found guilty of contempt
proceedings and proceedings for contempt is either dismissed or dropped against
him then the informant or person who has moved the application for initiating
the contempt will have no right of appeal under section 19 of the Act. In case
of Varda Kant Mishra vs. State of Orissa, it was
clarified by Supreme Court that the order or the decision of High Court refusing
to initiate contempt proceedings or dropping the contempt proceedings or
acquitting the contemner (even if initiated the contempt proceedings) cannot be
challenged by way of appeal under Section 19. It is only the order of punishment
which can be challenged by way of appeal under section 19 of the act.
Procedure To Be Adopted In Contempt Proceedings
Section 14 of the contempt of court act deals with the procedure of contempt in
the face of the court of record whereas section 15 deals with the procedure in
cases other than in the face of court of record. This is also known as
constructive contempt. Article 129 provides that the Supreme Court and article
215 provides that every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all
the powers of such court including to punish for its contempt. These court of
records have inherent power to punish for contempt and therefore these court of
records can deal with such matter summarily and can adopt their own procedure.
The only case to be observed by the courts of record while exercising the
contempt jurisdiction is that the procedure adopted must be fair and reasonable
in which full opportunity should be given to the alleged contemner to defend
himself. No person should be punished for the contempt unless a specific charge
against him is distinctly stated and he is given a reasonable opportunity to
answer it and to defend himself against such charge.
The contempt proceedings are neither civil proceedings nor criminal. They are
sui generis. Consequently, contempt proceedings will neither be governed by
Civil Procedure Code nor by Code of Criminal Procedure. Even the provisions of
Indian Evidence Act will not be attracted in the contempt proceedings. The
contempt of court including the criminal contempt is not an offence within the
meaning of Code of Criminal Procedure and therefore a procedure prescribed by
Code of Criminal Procedure for investigation, enquiry and trial of the offence
is not required to be followed in contempt proceedings.
The contempt of court and the power of the Supreme Court and High Courts to
initiate proceedings for contempt and pass punishment orders, is a special
jurisdiction which is inherent in all the courts of record. Section 5 of the
Code of Criminal Procedure expressly excludes special jurisdiction from the
scope of Code of Criminal Procedure.
Procedure To Be Adopted In Cases of Contempt In The Face of The Court
Section 14 deals with contempt in the face of the Supreme Court and High Courts
and it provides that whenever it appears to the Supreme Court and the High
Courts that a person appears to have committed contempt in its presence or
hearing the court may cause such person to be detained in custody.
And shall at any time before the rising of the court on the same day or as
early as possible, thereafter :
1. Cause him to be informed in writing of the contempt with which he is
2. Afford him an opportunity to make his defense in respect of the charge.
3. After taking such evidence as may be offered by such person and after
hearing him proceed either forthwith or after adjournment to determine the
matter of the charge.
4. Make such order for the punishment or discharge of such person as may be
Where the person charged with contempt under this 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 contempt is alleged to have
been committed and the court is of the opinion that it is necessary in the
interest of justice that the application should be allowed, it shall cause the
matter to be placed before the Chief Justice with the statement of facts of the
case for transfer before such judge as the Chief Justice may think fit and
proper under the circumstances of the case.
However, it shall not be necessary for the judge or Judges in whose presence or
hearing the contempt is alleged to have been committed to appear as a witness
before the Court where the matter has been referred. The statement of facts of
the case written by the judge or Judges while referring the matter to the Chief
Justice shall be treated as evidence in the case.
In Sukhdev Singh vs. Teja Singh
, the Supreme Court observed that if the judge
has been personally attacked, he should not, as far as possible, hear the
contempt matter and should refer the matter to Chief Justice for nomination of
some other Court, or, on the application of the person aggrieved. This is
necessary keeping in view the principle of law that no one should be a judge in
his own cause, and, secondly justice should not only be done, but it must appear
to have been done.
In those cases, where the Contemnor has been detained in custody, during the
pendency of the Contempt case, he may be released on Bail or on furnishing bond
with or without sureties, that he shall continue to attend the Court
Procedure of Criminal Contempt Committed Outside The Court
Criminal Contempt committed outside the Court, in other words, other than in the
face of the Court, is known as Constitutive Contempt. Section 15(1) deals with
cognizance of criminal contempt by courts of record whereas Section 15(2) deals
with criminal contempt of sub-ordinate courts.
Section 15(1) provides that cognizance for criminal contempt can be taken by the
Supreme Court and High Courts in the following manner:
i. On its own motion
ii. On the motion of the Advocate General
iii. On the motion of any other person, with the consent, in writing,
of the Advocate General.
iv. On the motion of such law officer in relation to the High Court
for the Union Territory of Delhi as the central government may notify.
Section 15(2) provides that in case of criminal contempt of a sub-ordinate
court, the concerned High Court may take action in the following manner:
i. On the reference made to it by the sub-ordinate court.
ii. On the motion made by the Advocate General.
iii. On the motion made by such law officer in relation to a Union
Territory as the Central Government may specify.
Section 15(3) provides that every motion or reference shall specify the contempt
of which the person charged is alleged to be guilty.
The expression “advocate general” in this section means the following:
1.in relation to the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or the solicitor
2.In relation to a High Court, the Advocate General of the states for which High
Court has been established.
3.In relation to the court of judicial commissioner, such law officer as the
central government may specify.
Bar On Private Persons
Section 15 bars the private individuals to file without consent of the Advocate
General. The purpose of barring a private person from filing contempt procedure
without the consent of Attorney General is to save the court's time from being
wasted in frivolous complaints.
In Hari Kishan vs. Narutham Das Shashtri
, the SC held that the purpose of
barring private person from filing criminal contempt is to prevent the courts
from being flooded with frivolous motions in order to serve personal interest or
Once the matter is scrutinized by advocate general only such motions which have
substance will receive the court's attention.
In case of Biman Basu V A.G Thakurta
, the SC held that any petition
criminal contempt filed by any private person without the consent of the
Advocate General will not be maintainable and will be dismissed on this ground
In cases of contempt committed outside the court, the contempter isn't present
in the court and therefore a notice is to be served on him section 17 deals with
this procedure. It provides that notice of every proceeding under section 15
shall be served personally on the person charged unless the court for reasons to
be recorded, directs otherwise.
The notice shall be accompanied:
1. In case of proceedings commenced on a motion, by the copy of the motion along
with affidavit and material on which such motion is founded.
2. In case of proceedings on a reference by a subordinate court, by a copy of
If the court is of the opinion that the person charged under section 15 is
likely to abscond or is likely to avoid the service of notice, the court may
order the attachment of the property of such person. However, the court may
release the property from attachment if the person appears and satisfies the
court that he did not abscond or avoid the court’s notice.
Any person charged with contempt under section 15 may file an affidavit in
support of his defence and the court may decide the charge of contempt on the
basis of his affidavit or after taking such evidence as may be necessary.
Anything that curtails or impairs the freedom of limits of the judicial
proceedings. Any conduct that tends to bring the authority and administration of
Law into disrespect or disregard or to interfere with or prejudice parties or
their witnesses during litigation. Consisting of 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 any way to obstruct the cause of Justice.
An apology shall not be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or
conditional if the accused makes it bonafidely.
Section 12 deals with the punishment for contempt of court. It provides as
follows: Section 12(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 extent to 6 months or a fine which may extend upto rupees 2000
Provided that, the accused (of contempt) may be discharged or the punishment
awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the court's satisfaction.
However, in short contempt can be said to be an act or omission which interferes
or tends to interfere in the administration of justice. To constitute contempt,
it’s not necessary that there has been actual interference in the administration
of justice. If the act complained of, tends to interfere or attempts to
interfere in the administration of justice, may be taken as contempt. The
expression 'administration of justice' is to be used in a very wide sense. It is
not confined to the judicial function of the judge but includes all functions of
judges- administrative, adjudicatory and any other function necessary for the
administration of justice.
 2nd year BA LLB student, National Univerity of Study & Research in Law, Ranchi
 (1998) 8 SCC 640
 JT 1992 (5) SC 278, 1992 (2) SCALE 424, (1992) 4 SCC 167, 1992 Supp 1 SCR
43, 1992 (2) UJ 720 SC, (1992) 2 UPLBEC 1166
 Dr. D. C. Saxena v. Chief Justice of India
 1990 AIR 1325, 1990 SCR (3) 64
 (2001) 6 SCC 735
 AIR 1991 SC 1171
 1990 SCR (3) 744, 1990 SCC (4) 55
 (2002) 8 SCC 481
 (2011) 3. SCC 363
 JT 1992 (5) SC 278
 (1998) 8 SCC 640
  4 S.C.C. 463
 Appeal (civil) 7948 of 2004
 (2005) 2 CALLT 1 HC, 2005 (2) CHN 330