One should be aware that contempt laws were not introduced by the Britishers but they have been followed since the medieval times as the rulers and monarchy were the supreme most authority in their countries and they were also the ones who were controlling and administering justice for their subjects and framing the law of the land. Even in those times, if anyone posed a question on the rulings and decision of the monarch or its subordinate members then it was considered as if they have questioned the law of God and hence, they were relegated to punishment for disobeying the rulings of the monarch. The monarch of the medieval times corresponds to the highest court of law of today’s time. By this it is understood that punishment for contempt of law has been in prevalence since the monarchy systems.
In today’s world, whenever the notion of Democracy is being discussed, it is always professed that judiciary should be independent and free from the reach of executive and legislative, only then it can render justice to its people or else the decisions can get influenced. Democracy also guarantees certain set of fundamental rights to its people, disregarding any kind of discrimination while providing these rights. One of the common fundamental rights which is often used as well as misused for multiple purposes by people, is right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
Many people use this right for their own beneficial purposes and serve the purpose of the article whereas some people have the questioned the extent of this right, while expressing their resistance against certain laws and violating them in the process. One such incident which can be considered probing the extent and applicability of right to speech and expression is the act of contempt of court where it has been explicitly mentioned that nothing should be said in disregard of the court or which lowers the prestige of judiciary. There are mainly two articles in the Indian Constitution which speak of Contempt of Court. They are as follows-
- Article 129– The Supreme Court of India, shall be the keeper of records or also known as the Court of records and it shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself. The evidences and proofs mentioned in these records act as precedents for the upcoming cases and judgments for the subordinate courts and cannot be questioned at any cost. These records are also considered as the highest authority and anything stated against these, shall be termed as contempt of court.
- Article 142(2)– The Apex Court shall have all and every power to make an order for the presence of any person of the country, discovery or production of the documents or investigation reasons or punish any person for contempt of court. But while Supreme Court has this wholesome power and is the highest form of justice, this doesn’t mean that it will hinder the personal liberty of a person who belongs to India, in the name of contempt of court.
Origin Of Contempt Of Court Act 1971
If we look into the history of Contempt of Court Act, 1971 it has been derived from many legislation’s that were being enforced even before independence by the Britishers. Infact the Britishers have brought some new concepts of contempt laws and widened the scope of contempt laws. As stated before the Act of 1971 came into existence, there were many other legislation’s, that governed the contempt of British India, such as Charter of 1726 which brought in the authority for keeping a check on the powers in the presidency towns and afterwards the Supreme Court of Judicature was established in Calcutta under the Regulation Act of 1773.
After many deliberations and discussions, the Contempt of Court Act 1926 came into existence after multiple legislation’s that were passed before, were found to have some or the other flaw and it was proposed that the 1926 Act would be the apt the legislation to look after the contempt laws and as per section 2 of the Act, the High Court of Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Allahabad had the authority to hear the contempt cases and suggest punishments for them too for all the other subordinate courts.
But even, the 1926 Act was not sufficient enough to bring the entire the princely states within the ambit of this Act, as some of the princely states were still under the rule of Kings and they were following their own laws and enactments with regard to their land. But post-independence, after India was united as one nation many discussions were held and the Contempt of Court 1952 was formed and this Act had delegated powers not just in the hands of High Courts but also to the Judicial Commissioner Courts mentioned within the definition column.
Further, in the landmark judgment of BR Reddy v. State of Madras, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that stating the truth or fact won’t attract the contempt of court charge on the accused person. In the case, the accused person was an editor who wrote an article against a Magistrate which accused him of indulging into corruption and bribery and when the editor was interrogated, he didn’t hesitate in saying that he was speaking the truth, but unfortunately he didn’t have enough proof to support his argument.
Thus, Justice Mukherjee marked in his judgment that, if the accusations posed are proven to be true and it was in the interest of the public to bring the particular matter before the public then the person shall not be charged for contempt but if the allegations are found to be false and they undermine the confidence of public for administration of justice and bring disgrace to the judiciary then he shall be charge for contempt. As the appellant (editor) didn’t have enough evidence to prove that the Magistrate was guilty, it is believed that he didn’t have bonafide intentions, even if the good faith is considered as defence for contempt case.
As this case came into light, there were other concerns with regard to contempt were also raised such as for expanding the definition of contempt of court especially what all is considered as “contempt” in criminal matters. There were many constitutional amendments also made after 1952 which led to advancement of another bill in 1960 with this regard and further the Sanyal Committee was formed to deal with the Contempt laws. Their primary agenda was to deal with the contempt and its kinds and what will be the punishment for the same and how one can extend the ambit of contempt with respect to all matters. The committee was also responsible for providing suggestions and amendments in the existing Contempt Act and widen its reach.
On the basis of findings and research made by the Committee, and the changes suggested to the Parliament, the Contempt of Court Act 1952 was replaced by the Contempt of Court Act 1971, and it still exists till date with certain amendments and also bifurcated the contempt matters into 2 heads- Criminal and Civil contempt.
Essentials For Contempt Of Court
There are certain essential elements which need to be looked upon before calling the act as contempt of court. They are-
- Disobeying or disregarding any kind of court proceedings, the order or judgment, decree etc has to be done willingly/ intentionally in case of Civil Contempt.
- In case of criminal contempt, the part “publication” is significant thing which means the disobedience should be done publicly and can be in any form written or spoken. In spoken also, it can be in any way possible wither by words, gestures, visual representation, signs etc.
- The contempt should be against a “valid order” made and passed by the Court and the order should be in the knowledge of the respondent, or else it will not be considered as contempt and even the respondent can use this defence for any accusation of contempt.
These were some of the crucial essential to be kept in mind while framing a person for a contempt and all of them should be fulfilled.
Kinds Of Contempt Of Court In India
There are mainly 2 kinds of contempt of court as mentioned above recognised in India. They are-
1. Civil Contempt
Section 2(a) of the Act 1971 states the definition of Civil Contempt, which can be noted as wilful disobedience by a person to a decree, order, judgment, direction or any writ passed by any Court, or the person willingly breaches the undertakings given by the Court, then it is considered as Civil contempt.
Under civil contempt the offender deprives the other party from availing the benefit of the order which was made in favour of this party and against the offender, thus civil contempt primarily consists of offences which are private in nature. So basically, when the disobedience is committed willingly, the other person is affected by his doings. Wilful disobedience should be present in case of civil contempt.
In case of Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of Munsiff, Kamrup, it was held that even though the Court had passed a decree for rendering assistance and as the defendant didn’t render assistance, the defendant had failed to execute the decree of delivering the immovable property due to certain obstacles and thus he was held liable for wilful disobedience to the order passed by the competent civil court.
2. Criminal Contempt
Section 2(c) of the Act 1971 has defined the “Criminal Contempt” and it states that :-
2.1. “Publication” of the act either by words, spoken or written, gestures, signs or visual representation or
2.2. Commission of any of the acts mentioned below-
- Scandalize or tries to scandalize the situation, lowers or tries to lower the authority of court
- Interferes with biasness or tries to interfere in the course of judicial proceedings
- Hinders or obstructs or tries to hinder, interfere or tends to interfere with the administration of justice in any way.
Any of these above-mentioned acts is committed by a person, then it shall be considered as “criminal contempt” and person shall be liable for punishment. In the case of Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh, this case is regarding scandalizing the situation and there was an advocate who gave a caste disparaging and scandalous remark to the Judge of the High Court. The advocate had filed an election petition in the High Court and he pleaded for putting a stay on the further arguments of the election petition and even transfer the election petitions. This pleading was taken as an attack on the judicial proceeding of the High Court and was appearing as tendency to scandalize the Court. Thus, it was held that the applicant had tried coerce the judge of the High Court and created a barrier for proper conduct of a fair trial.
3. Contempt by Company
Whenever a person is found guilty for contempt of court for the disobedience of an undertaking given by a court while he is still member of the Company, then the person who was the in-charge of the company and was given the responsibility for the working of the business of the company, at that point of time when the contempt was committed will be liable for the contempt. Usually persons liable for the contempt of company are detained in civil prisons and some relief from the Court. But the person can relieve himself from this liability, if he is able to prove his innocence and that the contempt committed was out of his knowledge and that he has taken all the reasonable care and precaution to prevent such contempt. If he is successful in proving so, then he/she shall be acquitted.
Punishment For Contempt Of Court
The most essential provision of the Act is section 12 which deals with the punishment for Contempt of Court. As per this provision, both High Court and Supreme Court have the power to punish someone for the contempt of court.
Section 12(1) of the Act states that the accused person can be punished with simple imprisonment and it can extend to upto 6 months or he can be charged with fine extending upto Rs 2000 or it can be both. Nevertheless, the punishment granted to the offender can be remitted or reduced or discharged on the condition that he apologises to the Court is such a way that should satisfy Court and only then his sentence for contempt of court can be exempted. The apology made by the accused should be bona fide and convince the Court that he is genuinely sorry for his acts, or else if not found satisfactory, the Court may reject the apology stating it is conditional.
The Court cannot enforce or impose additional sentence for the accused and has to impose as stated in this provision with respect to itself as well as for its subordinate court.
Remedies available against the Punishment
Section 13 of the Act specifies that remedies that are available with the Courts to remit the punishment. This provision was added to the Act with 2006 amendment, as called Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act 2006. This section also mentions the circumstances or conditions under which the Court cannot be punished.
Section 13(a) of the Contempt of Court Amendment Act, states that no court can be punished for any kind of contempt unless it has been proven that the contempt caused is of such grave nature that it can cause extensive interference or tends to interfere with due functioning of rendering justice.
Section 13(b) of the Amendment Act 2006, states that court may also take the defence on the justification of truth that the act was done in good faith and for safeguarding the interest of public and thus can request to invoke the defence of bona fide intention.
Landmark Judgments with reference to Contempt
- In the case of P.N. Duda v. VP Shiv Shankar & Others, it was held by the Apex Court that the judges cannot misuse this contempt jurisdiction just to secure and maintain their dignity. It was further stated that India is a free nation with numerous ideas and questions and no one shall be refrained to criticise the judiciary or the judicial system in an appropriate manner and the criticism should not affect the due course and administration of justice.
- In the case of Sudhakar Prasad v. Government of Andhra Pradesh and Ors, the Supreme Court again held that powers to punish for any kind of contempt has been derived from the constitutional provision and they are intrinsic in nature. Therefore, the provisions of contempt of court cannot be extended to restrict the exercise and use of jurisdiction given under Article 129 and Article 215 of the Constitution.
- In the landmark judgment of Indirect Tax practitioner’s Association v. RK Jain, it was held that Supreme Court had observed that defence of truth can be allowed to the accused person only if the alleged contempt was in the interest of public and request made for invoking the said defence is in good faith, as mentioned under remedies available against punishment (section 13 of the Act).
Recent cases of Contempt
- In case of Prashant Bhushan v. Another, 2020 SCC 698, it was held that the prominent and notable advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan was held guilty for contempt of court on August 14, 2020 for making 2 tweets that were against the current Chief Justice SA Bobde and the previous four CJIs where the Apex Court was of the view that the tweets made were based on inaccurate facts and led to a scandalous and malevolent attack on the Supreme Court and undermined the base of judiciary, as his past noble works were given consideration, he was sentenced to a fine of Re 1.
As the accused failed to pay the fine amount in the given period, Bhushan was rendered a punishment of imprisonment for 3 months along with practise ban of three years in advocacy by the Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. It was further stated by the Judges that Bhushan was provided with three opportunities to submit an unconditional apology to the Court but Bhushan refused to give an apology and stated that he stood by his tweets and didn’t expect any leniency or mercy from the Court.
- The recent much hyped case of Kunal Kamra, who has been accounted for contempt of court proceedings after the Attorney General KK Venugopal has granted his consent to initiate the contempt proceedings against the comedian who wrote an open letter in one of his tweets criticising the Supreme Court for its fast-track bail hearing of Arnab Goswami. The accused has stated the he doesn’t intend to retract his tweets that were criticizing the Supreme Court and neither will he apologise for them.
He has further stated that Supreme Court has been silent over the matters of personal liberty in other cases also, and this conduct cannot go uncriticised. The comedian has further pleaded that more relevant and important matters should be heard first rather than his contempt petition, such as the demonetisation petition, petition questioning the removal of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and other multiple matters which are way more significant than a contempt petition.
As there were multiple letters written to Attorney General around eight, out of which 3 were written by lawyers to initiate contempt proceedings against the comedian and even KK Venugopal stated that this was not just objectionable but also questioned the functioning of judiciary.
Thus, Contempt of Court Act, 1971 was enacted to uphold the dignity of the Judiciary and to make sure that no one disobeyed the order, decree or decision of the Court and if such contempt was done, then it shall have consequences in form of imprisonment or fine. But lately, the concept of contempt has changed and it is evident that judiciary is more concerned about maintaining its pride and dignity rather than actually rendering justice. All the decisions made by judiciary also seem partial and any question posed against them, is marked as contempt whereas it is necessary to keep check on the judiciary also, or soon majority of the people questioning and challenging the authority will be found behind iron bars, and those walking outside shall be the puppets of the system.
Thus, the concept of contempt should be broadened and it shall not favour the judicial system, instead it should be impartial giving, accused person a chance to explain himself for committing such contempt and give reasonable defence for it.
-This Article has been authored by Rhea Banerjee, pursuing B.A.LL.B from Indore Institute of Law.
Refer – The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971
Read – Succession Laws of Hindus