Contempt of Courts Act 1971- FULL ANALYSIS

The crime of defying or disrespecting a court is known as Contempt of Courts Act. Disrespecting legal authorities in a courtroom or defiantly failing to comply with a court order can result in contempt of court proceedings. A judge can impose sanctions such as fines or prison terms for someone found guilty of Contempt of Courts.

Contempt of Courts Act 1971 – Definition

What are the Essentials of Contempt of Courts Act?

If a person named Akash has to prove that another person named Sita is guilty of committing an act which is a crime in court. He then has to prove to the court that the crime that Sita has committed fulfills the basic prerequisites to commit that crime or not. If it is material, he will be responsible for this act. Similarly, every crime have certain exceptions that must be in order for a person to be liable for that crime. Contempt of court also has certain requisites and they are as follows:

  • Disobeying any type of court process, order, judgment, decree, etc., should be “willful” in a civil contempt case.
    In Criminal Contempt, the most important thing is ‘publication’.
  • The court should make a “valid order” which should be “known to” the respondent.
  • The instigator’s conduct should be willful and also in clear disregard of a court order.
  • These requisites should be met when charging someone with contempt of court.

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Types of Contempt of Courts in India

There are two types of contempt:-

  • Civil Contempt
  • Criminal Contempt

Civil Contempt:-

Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act 1971 defines civil contempt. As the willful disobedience of an order, decree, order, any judgment or order of a court by any person. Or willful breach by a person of an undertaking given to a court. Since civil contempt deprives a party of the benefit for which the order was made, these are crimes of a substantially private nature. In other words, a person who is entitled to the benefit of an injunction generally commits that wrong against that person.

Criminal Contempt:- 

According to Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971. Criminal contempt is defined as (i) the publication of any matter by words, spoken or written, or by gestures, or signs, or by visible representation, or (ii) the doing of any act which includes:

  • Scandalizes or tends to scandalize or diminishes or tends to diminish the authority of any court, or
  • Bias, interferes or tends to interfere with the proper course of any type of legal proceedings, or
  • Obstructs or tends to obstruct, interfere or tends to interfere with the administration of justice in any way.

What is Punishment for Contempt of Courts Act?

Both the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of India have the power to punish contempt of court.

Under Section 12 of the Indian Penal Code Contempt of Court Act, 1971, contempt of court is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 6 months or with fine. Which may extend to 2 thousand rupees or with both.

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The Contempt committed outside the court

Criminal contempt committed out of court, in other words, other than before a court, is known as constitutive contempt. Section 15(1) deals with the recognition of criminal contempt by courts of record, Section 15(2) criminal contempt by subordinate courts.

Contempt by the third party to the proceeding

If a third party is involved in the crime, the third party to the crime may be guilty of contempt of court and may be prosecuted. In LED Builders Pty Ltd v Eagles Homes Pty Ltd [7] Lindgren J stated:

“It is not necessary to show that the person who violated the injunction may be liable for contempt of court, but all that is necessary to establish his liability for contempt is to show that the person knew of the violation of the injunction. ”

In another case M/S. Gatraj Jain & Sons v. Janakiraman [8] on third party proceedings, it was stated that if the third party in the contempt petition is found to be willfully disobeying the court order, it cannot prevent the court from restoring the status quo.

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Famous cases of contempt

  • P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others:-
    “This case, the Supreme Court held that judges cannot use contempt jurisdiction to preserve their own dignity. Our country is a free market of ideas and no one can be restrained from criticizing the judicial system as long as that criticism does not impede the “administration of justice”.
  • R. Rajagopal vs State Of T.N:-
    This case is also known as the Auto Shankar case; in this case, Justice Jeevan Reddy referred to the very famous doctrine of John Sullivan. This doctrine says that the public must be open to harsh comments and accusations if they are made in good faith, even if they are false.
  • In Re: Arundhati Roy:-
    In this case, the Supreme Court observed that fair criticism of the conduct of a judge or judicial authority and its function cannot amount to contempt if it is made in good faith and in the public interest.
  • Indirect Tax practitioners’ Association v. R.K. Jain:-
    In this case, the Supreme Court stated that the defense of truth may be allowed to a person accused of contempt if both conditions are met. They are: (i) if it is in the public interest and (ii) the application to assert the said defense is proper. These are set out in section 13 of the Contempt of Court Act 1971.
  • Justice Karnan’s case:-
    He was the first Supreme Court judge to be jailed for six months on a charge of Contempt of Court. In February 2017, contempt of court proceedings were opened against him after he accused twenty judges of the higher judiciary of corruption. He wrote a letter to PM Modi against it but did not provide any evidence against them.

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Criticism against the power of contempt of courts

The Contempt of Court Clause has been heavily criticized by former judges and lawyers. As having a negative effect on free speech because it is too broad and vague in its definition. And gives scope for its misuse to shield the judiciary from criticism.

In 2011, former Supreme Court judge and former chairman of the Press Council of India Markandey Katja called for the Contempt of Court Act 1971 to be amended to allow the media to better report on rights and matters related to the judiciary.

In March 2018, the Government of India was instructed by the Government of India to re-examine Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which defines the offense of contempt. The Commission was asked to examine a proposal. Which suggested that contempt of court should be limited to cases of civil contempt. That is disobeying court orders, and should not include the offense of “scandalizing the court”, i.e. criminal contempt.


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