Contempt Of Court In India

Law
09-Feb-2024
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A significant resource for maintaining the rule of law is the court. Indian citizens must follow the court's orders and regulations. When an individual disrespects the court and its regulations, it becomes a criminal offense. That offense is known as "Contempt of Court'' in legal terms.

Anyone found guilty of this act faces several penalties, including jail time and fines. All citizens must know the laws and guidelines concerning contempt of court.

We shall define contempt of court and discuss its many forms in this article. We will also examine the remedies available for this legal infraction and some of the instances that include it.

What is Contempt of Court?

An intentional act or omission to obstruct the proper administration of justice is considered contempt of court. Contempt of court also refers to actions taken against the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.

As per the definition provided in Attorney General v. Times Newspaper Ltd, “When someone engages in behavior related to a specific court procedure that undermines the system or prevents citizens from using it to address issues, it is referred to as “contempt of court.”

History

With profound historical origins, the notion of contempt of court is not a relatively new idea. We've seen a lot of legislation like this throughout history. There have been cases where someone was penalized for doing something that went outside the law. This authority usually belonged to the Kings or those in charge of the issue.

India's first law addressing contempt matters directly was the Contempt of Court Act of 1926. The Act's Section 2 outlines the authority of High Courts to penalize contempt of court.

After independence, the act was revoked and replaced with other legislation, such as the 1952 Contempt of Courts Act. To change that time contempt statute, a bill was proposed in Parliament in 1960.

A committee known as the Sanyal Committee was established to review both the proposed legislation and the present law because the government felt that it should be reviewed again.

Following the committee's 1963 report submission, numerous conversations with stakeholders and intellectuals occurred. After that, the bill was referred to the Joint Select Committee, which felt that the clause of the time restriction for filing a contempt motion should be changed. In 1971, the measure was ultimately enacted into law, repealing the prior one.

In addition to defining civil and criminal contempt, the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 establishes the methods and authority that courts have to punish contempt and the possible punishments for the offense.

The Act was changed in 2006 to remove the ability for courts to punish for contempt unless it "interfered with the due course of justice" and to permit the use of the truth as a defense against such an offense.

Contempt of Court Act, 1971

Contempt of Court Act, 1971 is an important legal framework in India. It aims to preserve the respect and power of the courts. Generally, it consists of 24 sections. A list of a few of the most significant sections is as follows:

Section 2: Explanations

  • This explains terms like "contempt of court" and the distinctions between criminal and civil contempt.

Section 3: Innocent Publication and Distribution

  • This section provides safeguards to guarantee the publication of unbiased court case reports.

Section 4: Fair Criticism of Judicial Acts

  • If legitimate criticism of court actions and decisions does not obstruct the administration of justice, it is permitted under this clause.

Section 5: Publication of Information Relating to Proceedings in Chambers or Camera

  • Restrains the reporting of events that occur on camera or in private.

Section 6: Civil Contempt

  • This section describes civil contempt and its penalties. It gives the court the authority to penalize willful defiance.

Section 7: Punishment for Contempt of Court

  •   Describes the possible jail time or fines for contempt of court.

Section 8: Procedure for Trial of Contempt

  • Explains the process to submit a contempt petition and designate an amicus curiae.

Section 10: High Courts' Authority to Penalise Subordinate Court Contempt

  • Courts at lower levels may look into cases of contempt against them under Section 10.

Section 11: Contempt of Courts subordinate to the High Court

  • Focuses on instances of contempt directed towards courts that are below the High Court.

Section 12: Punishment for Contempt of Court

  • This section highlights corrective rather than punitive measures when describing the punishment for contempt.

Section 13: Contempt Not Committed in the Face of the Court

  • Addresses contempts that don't happen in front of the court.

Section 14: Procedure where Contempt is Committed in the View or Hearing of a Civil or Criminal Court

  • Describes what happens in a civil or criminal court when someone exists in contempt.

Section 15: Cognizance of Criminal Contempt in Other Cases

  • Explains the procedure to determine criminal contempt.

Section 16: Contempts by Judges, Magistrates, or Other Persons

  • Section 16 focuses on the disrespect shown by magistrates, judges, and other officials.

Section 17: Procedure for Investigation of Contempts

  • Specifies the process to investigate the claims of contempt.

Section 19: Appeals

  • This section permits appeals of rulings or directives in cases of contempt.

Section 20: Act not to Confer a Right of Contempt in Certain Cases

  • Explains which circumstances are exempt from the Act's right of contempt.

Section 21: Act to be in addition to and not in Derogation of Other Laws relating to Contempt

  • Explains that the Act is a supplement to other contempt statutes.

Section 22: Power of Supreme Court to Make Rules

  •   Section 22 gives the Supreme Court the power to create guidelines for contempt cases.

Section 23: Power of High Court to Make Rules

  • This section gives High Courts the authority to establish regulations for their regions.

Section 24: Repeal of certain enactments and savings

  • Section 24 discusses savings and the repeal of earlier laws.

Categories of Contempt of Court

There are two categories of contempt of court:

  • Criminal Contempt of Court.
  • Civil Contempt of Court.

Civil

When someone disobeys a court order, causing harm to a private party's rights, that person is often referred to as civil contempt of court. For instance, there may be civil contempt penalties for nonpayment of child support orders issued by the court.

Generally, a civil contempt action can be filed by the party who feels mistreated, like a parent who has not received court-ordered child support payments.

Criminal

Disobedience to a court order that involves criminal consequences is known as criminal contempt of court.

Typical behaviors that might lead to accusations of criminal contempt of court include making fun of the judge or causing a commotion during a trial.

Punishment

The Supreme Court and the High Courts have the authority to punish its contempt under Articles 129 and 215. Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 establishes penalties for contempt of court. It includes the kind and degree of penalties the courts may impose for its disobedience.

Section 12 stipulates that contempt is punishable by a fine of 2000 rupees, a simple jail sentence of six months, or both. This is the worst punishment for contempt that the courts may administer. Arresting someone should only be necessary if it is essential to uphold the law.

Remedies Against an Order of Punishment

According to the Contempt of Court Act, the following remedies are available in opposition to the punishment order.

Apology: The court may lessen the contempt punishment if it finds that the contemnor's apology was given with sincere regret.

Appeal: A legislative right to appeal High Court orders issued in the course of the court's exercise of jurisdiction to punish contempt of court has been established by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

This conduct did not seriously hurt the person it penalized, even though there was no official right of appeal before it. According to Article 134 of the Indian Constitution, the High Court itself may issue the certificate.

If the High Court declines to provide the certificate, the Supreme Court may consider the appeal by giving special leave as per Article 136 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the court's discretion was paramount to the right of appeal before 1971.

Notable Cases

Some of the notable cases related to contempt of court are as follows:

  • The Gujarat High Court found B. M. Patel guilty of contempt of court in 2011. He was given a three-month jail sentence and a 2000 fine. Patel was found guilty in connection with remarks he made against the courts about a property lawsuit that was still pending. According to the Gujarat High Court, this is the only instance in which the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 has resulted in a conviction.
  • Actor Rajpal Yadav of Bollywood and his spouse Radha Yadav were both found guilty of contempt of court in 2013. They were sentenced to ten days in prison after neglecting to appear before the Delhi High Court in a lawsuit filed against them to collect debts.
  • In the context of an ongoing disagreement on the treatment of Dalit judges in the judiciary, Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan wrote to the Supreme Court in 2015, threatening to bring contempt of court proceedings against the then-Chief Justice of India, H. L. Dattu. Justice Karnan was subsequently found guilty of contempt of court and given a six-month jail sentence by the Supreme Court. Judge Karnan was eventually taken into custody and served imprisonment time after originally refusing to accept the arrest warrant.
  • Prashant Bhushan, an activist and lawyer, was found guilty of contempt of court in 2020. He had shared a news photo of India's current Chief Justice, Sharad Bobde, sitting on a motorbike during the COVID-19 outbreak without wearing a face mask. He had attacked the judiciary for hearing just certain cases during the lockdown. The Supreme Court extended an apology to him. But he turned it down. Bhushan and others launched a constitutional challenge to the Contempt of Courts Act, which is currently unresolved.