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