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Contempt of Courts in India: A Legal Analysis

The Judiciary is one of the three organs of governance in India, the other two being the Executive and the Legislature. Entrusted with the function of interpretation of laws, the Judiciary thus passes Orders, Judgements and Decrees which affect the litigating parties and many a times even the citizens at large.

However, if the power and function of courts are undermined by the citizens, then the entire nation will become lawless and disorderly as there would be no use of the legislature which passes bills and enact laws. Likewise, even the executive would find it useless to execute or administer those legislations because in case of disputes between parties, there would be no appropriate authority to adjudicate those disputes to arrive at a conclusion. We can then infer that obedience to the Courts and due respect to the courts by all citizens is of utmost importance.

Meaning of the word "contempt" as per Oxford dictionary:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word contempt as

The feeling that someone or something is without value and deserves no respect at all, A lack of worry or fear about rules, danger, etc.

With the above description in layman's language, we can infer that contempt of court would be either if someone disrespects or disobeys the court in some way or if a person does not fear the orders or rules of the court. Let us now study the express definition of Contempt of Court by its specific legislation.

Contempt as defined under The Contempt of Court Act, 1973:

Section 2(a) of The Contempt of Court Act, 1973 defines Contempt of Court as either Civil Contempt or Criminal Contempt.

Section 2(b) Defines Civil Contempt as:

"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"

Section 2(c) defines criminal contempt as:

The publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, 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;

Provision in the Constitution of India pertaining to punishment for contempt of Court:

The Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court to punish anyone who commits contempt towards it. Article 129 of the COI reads as "Supreme Court to be a court of record - The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself"

Examples of Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt:

A Civil Contempt is committed when any directions of the court is willfully disobeyed. For example, if the Court imposes cost of Rs.5000/- on the petitioner to be paid by the 1st day of a particular month for filing a frivolous writ petition and the petitioner does not pay the amount by that day in contravention to the court's directions, then the petitioner has committed contempt of court. Similarly, if a person ignores to present himself in court despite being issued summons by the court, he commits civil contempt.

A Criminal Contempt is committed when a person scandalizes or lowers the authority of the court by his/her actions, interferes with a judicial proceeding or obstructs the administration if justice. For example, if a person makes defamatory statements about a judge and publishes allegations that the Judge is corrupt and has been paid to favor a particular litigant then he/she has committed criminal contempt. Another example could be that if a litigant shouts and screams in court during hearing of his case causing disruption to the court proceedings then here again he has committed criminal contempt.

Quantum of punishment for Contempt of Court:
Section 12 (1) of the The Contempt of Court act 1973 provides that a contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or with both.

The same sub-section however further provides that the accused may be discharged or the punishment may be remitted on apology made by the contemner to the satisfaction of the court.

Conclusion: A Court is widely regarded as a temple of Justice. This is the reason why litigants 'pray' for reliefs after enumerating their respective contentions. Such a temple of justice calls for a certain sanctity and protection to ensure its proper functioning and for effective delivery of justice.

However if the authority of a court is undermined or disrespected or disobeyed without any legal repercussions to the contemnor, then the very power and authority of the court would be lost driving the entire state into anarchy and lawlessness. Therefore it becomes imperative to protect the constitutional authority of the courts by punishing or penalizing such offenders. The Contempt of Courts Act 1973 seeks to serve this very purpose by empowering the courts to award punishment for contempt - civil or criminal.

Written By: Adv.Parikshit Somani

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