What is Contempt of Court

In a significantly amateur understanding, Contempt of Court means disobeying the set principles of any Court.

It protects courts from unwarranted and motivated attacks on their authority.

In India, the Contempt of Court is Both Civil and Criminal. To note, only the Supreme Court and the High Courts have the authority to initiate a Contempt Proceeding against someone.

Interestingly, these Constitutional Courts drive their power of Contempt from the Constitution itself

  1. Article 129–Grants the Supreme Court of India, the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  2. Indian Constitution’s Article 142(2)–Enables the Supreme Court of India to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
  3. Article 215–Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.

However, the Indian Constitution does not elucidate the definition of Contempt and Its types.

Today, the codified law against contempt in India is the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. This act thoroughly defines contempt, its type, punishment, and also procedure in relation to it.

Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, bifurcates the ‘Contempt of Courts’ into two categories

(i) Civil Contempt and (ii) Criminal Contempt.

(i) Civil Contempt 

  • Civil Contempt means – ‘wilful disobedience to any judgment/ decree/ direction/ order/ writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

(ii) Criminal Contempt.

  • 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 scandalize, 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.

It is pertinent to note that mere criticizing the Court or its judgments on merits is not contempt. Moreover, a fair, reasonable, temperate, and legitimate criticism of the judiciary, or of the conduct of a Judge in his judicial capacity is permissible.

Also, The Kerala High Court said in the case of  Advocate General v Abraham George, 1975 SCC OnLine Ker 83 that judgments are open to criticism that must be done without casting aspersions on the Judges and the courts and without adverse comments amounting to scandalizing the courts.

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