A simple reading of the Contempt of Court Act reveals that sometimes a tweet on
the basis of facts is criminal contempt. Both criminal and civil contempt are
defined under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Section 2I of the Contempt of
Court Act, 1971 defines Criminal Contempt to mean the publication (whether by
words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, 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; or
- Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of
any judicial proceeding; or
- Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to
obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
As a result, the laws of contempt should be revived in order to
strike a balance between preserving the majesty of the courts and judicial
system, as well as the natural, basic, primordial, inalienable and inherent
right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the
Constitution. The Supreme Court was given the power to penalise contempt of
itself by Article 129 and the High Courts were given an equivalent power under
Article 215 of the Indian Constitution.
The power to exercise contempt jurisdiction and to punish for contempt of court
dates back to the thirteenth century. The king was regarded as the most
important figure in delivering justice throughout the ancient times, and his
powers were extensive and indisputable. People at the time had no right to
criticise or denounce the king's actions, and if they did, they were punished.
Work became burdensome due to changes in time and pattern, therefore he
transferred it to a working authority, namely judges.
The goal of initiating
contempt of court charges was to defend the court's legitimacy and keep judicial
administration running smoothly, regardless of whether the contempt was intended
at judicial officers or the general public. To understand what constitutes
legitimate criticism, how the judiciary values criticism, and how freedom of
speech and expression is curtailed in order to defend and maintain the court's
Analysis of Contempt Laws
The constitution bestows a particular sort of jurisdiction known as contempt
jurisdiction. To sustain and maintain the court's credibility, as well as to
build citizens' faith in the law, this power of contempt must be utilised with
extreme caution and ultimate impartiality. The power of contempt ensures that a
judicial institution's dignity is preserved, preventing it from being degraded
and ensuring that the administration of justice system runs smoothly.
objective of contempt law is to comprehend the idea of contempt of court, as
well as legal provisions and features of the Act, in the context of the
judiciary's fair exercise of power when dealing with contemptuous acts as well
as to comprehend the factors that authorities evaluate when assessing whether or
not a situation or deed is deplorable and should be punished. Further, to
understand what constitutes legitimate criticism, how the judiciary values
criticism, and how freedom of speech and expression is curtailed in order to
defend and maintain the court's credibility.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the authority to penalise for contempt as per
Article 129 is a constitutional power that cannot be limited by legislation. The
Supreme Court has all and every power to make any order on punishment of any
contempt of itself, according to Article 142 (2), subject to the terms of any
law adopted in this regard by Parliament.
When the two clauses are compared, it
becomes clear that, while the framers of the constitution believed that the
powers under clause (2) of Article 142 might be subject to any law passed by
Parliament, there is no such constraint in existence for Article 129. Wilful
defiance of a court's judgement is referred to as civil contempt.
A person can
be charged with criminal contempt if they:
- have a tendency to embarrass or undermine the court's authority
- have a tendency to obstruct the proper conduct of any judicial
- Attempt to thwart the administration of justice.
A contempt of court petition was filed against Advocate Prashant Bhushan, and
the Hon. Supreme Court convicts him after many hours of deliberation and
hearings. So far, everything has gone well. The Supreme Court then requests,
almost begs, the offender to humbly tender an apology to it so that he will not
be punished. Bhushan then adopts a superior ethical stance and makes no
apologies, claiming, like Mahatma Gandhi, that he would gladly accept any
punishment imposed by the court, but that apologising would violate his
conscience. As a result, the court orders Bhushan to pay a one-rupee fine.
the Supreme Court of India's contempt worth a single rupee?
Individuals' fundamental right to freedom of expression should not be
suppressed, nor should their right to fair and genuine criticism. Instead, the
courts must make a concerted effort to safeguard it. In the matter of Brahma
Prakash Sharma, 1953 SCR 1169, the Supreme Court emphasised this by
distinguishing between libel on the judge and contempt of court. Every Indian
has an inherent right to a just and equitable system of justice.
Constitution, which prioritises the individual and guarantees civil and
political rights, enshrines such a right. Individuals should be held accountable
not only by the state but also by the judiciary. Arguing that the judiciary
cannot be subjected to fair and valid criticism would be a violation of
citizens' rights. This supports the notion that the law of contempt should be
revised to provide citizens the freedom to question motives, if any exist, as
this would help to improve democracy.
The law of contempt has changed
significantly in Western democracies. In UK, for example, the judiciary was
recently called "You Old Fools" and "Enemies of the People" by various
newspapers. However, no action of contempt was taken against them, despite the
fact that such remarks are undoubtedly extreme. The stories were ignored by the
courts in a judicious and sensible manner. When elephants walk by, dogs bark.
Elephants, on the other hand, continue to walk.
Erstwhile US president Theodore Roosevelt railed over Justice Oliver Wendell
Holmes' dissenting opinion in the Northern Securities case, saying, "I could
carve a judge out of a banana, with more backbone than that." President Trump
reportedly referred to District Judge Jon S. Tigar as a "Obama judge." Has the
American judiciary been weakened as a result of such statements? Quite the
opposite is true. Apart from boosting the justice delivery system, such
independence has only improved democracy.
"We don't have Obama judges or Trump
judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Chief Justice John Roberts remarked.
What we have here is an incredible set of dedicated judges who are doing
everything they can to ensure that individuals who appear before them are
We should all be grateful for the independence of the court."
As he went on to say that all jurists will continue to do their job, without
fear or favour, from any quarter. These assertions are equally applicable to the
Supreme Court of India as they are to the Supreme Court of the United States. As
a result, even the world's most powerful men cannot damage the underpinnings of
our courts in any way.
India's contempt laws are outdated and need to be updated. These laws must
safeguard citizens from any unsettling tendency of any institution (including
the judiciary) to silence dissent or criticism, as well as harassment and
intimidation of such dissenters. An imposed silence would almost certainly breed
anger, distrust, and contempt for the bench, rather than the respect that it
craves. Respect that is earned rather than coerced is what the Indian courts
would like to see.
The right to free speech is by far the most basic of the
fundamental rights, and limits on it must be kept to a minimum. Only the
restrictions necessary to maintain the legitimacy of legal system can be imposed
under the legislation of contempt of court. As a result, regulations and
guidelines detailing the process that superior courts must follow when
conducting criminal contempt action must be drafted, bearing natural justice and
fairness principles in mind.
The purpose of the contempt jurisdiction granted to the court is to protect the
court's integrity as well as to ensure that judicial administration is fair and
efficient. The constitution bestows the power of contempt on the assumption that
it will be used fairly and efficiently. The judiciary is viewed as an
institution that protects citizens' rights and administers justice. Citizens
regard the courts as the highest level of protection, thus when judicial
officials bring the institution into disrepute by their actions, they must be
There is no denying that, as a large authority with many
obligations and tasks, the judiciary is bound to receive some criticism. The
judiciary, on the other hand, should have a big heart and accept constructive
criticism within the bounds of justice. After dealing with a variety of
situations over the last few years, the judiciary has matured to the point where
it can confront criticism while simultaneously refusing to condone behaviour
that undermines the court's grandeur. Hence, India's contempt laws are outdated
and need to be updated.
- Harshita Tomar & Nayan Jain, Contempt of Court: A Challenge To Rule Of
Law – A Critical Analysis, Journal on Contemporary Issues of Law (JCIL), Volume
No. 2, Issue 7 (September 2016).
- Ms. Priyanka Oberoi, Contempt of Court in India, ICAN Conference at
Noida, (March 2018).
- Law of Contempt of Court in India by K. Balasankaran Nair.
- G.V. Mahesh Nath & Audhi Narayana Vavili, "Contempt of Court and Free
Expression -Need for a Delicate Balance", (December 5, 2008)