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SC: Contempt of Court on furnishing false statement/false affidavit/ false undertaking to deceive the Court

It is commonly believed that disobedience of order of the Court tantamount to Contempt of Court. In common parlance, this is probably the only connotation of 'Contempt of Court'.

Contempt of court is defined as a legal violation committed by an individual who disobeys a judge or otherwise disrupts the legal process in the courtroom. Contempt of court is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.

It would be apposite to refer to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 which defines 'contempt of court' thus:
  1. contempt of court means civil contempt or criminal contempt;
  2. civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court;
  3. criminal contempt means 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:
    1. scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
    2. prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
    3. interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;

However, the Apex Court has enlarged the definition of 'Contempt of Court' to also include tendering of false affidavit/undertaking in Court. The Apex Court recently in the case of Suo-Motu Contempt Petition (Civil) No. 3 of 2021 in Re: Perry Kansagra decided on 11 July 2022 held that a person who makes a false statement before the Court and makes an attempt to deceive the Court or interferes with the administration of justice is guilty of contempt of Court.

The Apex Court in a catena of cases has consistently held that tendering of affidavits and undertakings containing false statement would amount to criminal contempt. The Apex Court in Pushpadevi M. Jatia v. M.L. Wadhawan (1987) 3 SCC 367 held that a false statement on oath is an offence punishable under Section 181 of the IPC while furnishing false information with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person is punishable under Section 182 IPC.

It would be trite to refer to Chandra Shashi v. Anil Kumar Verma (1995) 1 SCC 421 wherein the Apex Court categorically held that a person who makes an attempt to deceive the court, interferes with the administration of justice can be held guilty of contempt of court. In that case a husband who had filed a fabricated document to oppose the prayer of his wife seeking transfer of matrimonial proceedings was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to two weeks' imprisonment.

The Court observed thus:
  1. The stream of administration of justice has to remain unpolluted so that purity of court's atmosphere may give vitality to all the organs of the State. Polluters of judicial firmament are, therefore, required to be well taken care of to maintain the sublimity of court's environment; so also to enable it to administer justice fairly and to the satisfaction of all concerned.
  2. Anyone who takes recourse to fraud, deflects the course of judicial proceedings; or if anything is done with oblique motive, the same interferes with the administration of justice. Such persons are required to be properly dealt with, not only to punish them for the wrong done, but also to deter others from indulging in similar acts which shake the faith of people in the system of administration of justice.

14. The legal position thus is that if the publication be with intent to deceive the court or one made with an intention to defraud, the same would be contempt, as it would interfere with administration of justice. It would, in any case, tend to interfere with the same. This would definitely be so if a fabricated document is filed with the aforesaid mens rea. In the case at hand the fabricated document was apparently to deceive the court; the intention to defraud is writ large. Anil Kumar is, therefore, guilty of contempt.

Similarly, in the case of Dhananjay Sharma v. State of Haryana (1995) 3 SCC 757, the Apex Court held that filing of a false affidavit was the basis for initiation of action in contempt jurisdiction and punished the persons concerned.

It would be relevant to refer to K.D. Sharma v. SAIL (2008) 12 SCC 481 wherein the Apex Court dealing with this issue held as under:

39.If the primary object as highlighted in Kensington Income Tax Commrs. [R. v. General Commissioners for Purposes of Income Tax Acts For District of Kensington, ex p Princess Edmond De Polignac, (1917) 1KB 486 : 86 LJKB 257 : 116 LT 136 (CA)] is kept in mind, an applicant who does not come with candid facts and clean breast cannot hold a writ of the court with soiled hands.

Suppression or concealment of material facts is not an advocacy. It is a jugglery, manipulation, manoeuvring or misrepresentation, which has no place in equitable and prerogative jurisdiction. If the applicant does not disclose all the material facts fairly and truly but states them in a distorted manner and misleads the court, the court has inherent power in order to protect itself and to prevent an abuse of its process to discharge the rule nisi and refuse to proceed further with the examination of the case on merits.

If the court does not reject the petition on that ground, the court would be failing in its duty. In fact, such an applicant requires to be dealt with for contempt of court for abusing the process of the court.

It will also be apropos to refer to the following observations of the Apex Court in Kanwar Singh Saini v. High Court of Delhi (2012) 4 SCC 307 wherein the Court reiterated a similar view:
30. In an appropriate case where exceptional circumstances exist, the court may also resort to the provisions applicable in case of civil contempt, in case of violation/breach of undertaking/judgment/order or decree.

The Apex Court in ABCD v. Union of India (2020) 2 SCC 52 followed the precedents and reiterated the said dictum.

The Apex Court in the Perry Kansagra case (supra) discussed in length the earlier precedents and summed up thus:

15.It is thus well settled that a person who makes a false statement before the Court and makes an attempt to deceive the Court, interferes with the administration of justice and is guilty of contempt of Court. The extracted portion above clearly shows that in such circumstances, the Court not only has the inherent power but it would be failing in its duty if the alleged contemnor is not dealt with in contempt jurisdiction for abusing the process of the Court.

It is imperative that the litigants should not misstate any fact so as to deceive the Court to obtain favourable order nor should file any false affidavit/undertaking else they are bound to attract the ire of the Court and liable for prosecution for Contempt of Court.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 8279945021

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