Contempt of Court

Contempt of Court

Contempt of Court

Contempt of court is the offense of being disrespectful or disobedient towards the court, the proceedings of a court of law or its officers. Contempt of court is any wrongdoing or conduct that challenges or conflicts with the authority, superiority, and integrity of the court. These acts might include failure to comply with requests, withholding evidence, witness tampering, defying a court order or interruption of proceedings. These wrongful acts may be committed by officers of the court, attorneys, court personnel, witnesses, jurors, protestors, or any other party involved in a court proceeding.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “it is the act of demeaning the court, preventing justice administration, or disobeying a sentence of the court. It is criminal and can lead to fines or imprisonment.

In India, the concept of Contempt of Court is provided in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 under section 2(a) which has broadly described it as criminal contempt or civil contempt. There are two Articles in the Constitution of India which talk about the Contempt of Court and these are Article 129 and Article 142(2).

  1. Article 129: Article 129 states that the Supreme Court shall be the ‘Court of Record’ and it has all the powers of such courts including the power to punish for contempt of itself. The ‘Court of Record’ means a Court having its proceedings and acts registered for everlasting memory or that memory which has no end and as proof or evidence. The truthness of these records cannot be questioned and also these records are treated as a higher authority. And anything stated against the truthness of these records involves Contempt of Court.
  2. Article 142(2): This Article states that when any law is made by the Parliament on the provisions mentioned in clause 1 of this Article, the Supreme Court has all the power to make an order for securing production of any documents, any person’s attendance, or has the power to give punishment to any person for its contempt. This also does not mean that the Supreme Court can do anything against the right of personal liberty if it has the power to punish for Contempt of Court.
Essentials of Contempt of Court

Contempt of Court also has the following essentials and these are as follows:

  1. A valid order should be made by the court and this order should be in the knowledge of the respondent.
  2. The publication is the most important thing in the case of criminal contempt and this publication can be either spoken or written, or by words, or by visible representation, or by signs.
  3. In case of civil contempt, Disobedience to any type of court proceedings, its orders, judgment, decree, etc should be done willfully.
  4. The action of contempt should be deliberate and also it should be clearly disregard of the court’s order.
Types Of Contempt Of Court

In India, contempt of court has been classified into two categories which are as follows :

  1. Civil Contempt: Civil contempt of court mostly happens when someone fails to follow an order from the court, with resulting injury to the rights of a private party. For instance, failure to pay court-ordered child support can lead to punishment for civil contempt. Usually, the aggrieved party, such as a parent who has not received court-ordered child support payments, may file an action for civil contempt. A person who is charged with civil contempt can take the following defenses:
    1. Orders involving more than one reasonable interpretation
    2. Lack of Knowledge of the order
    3. The order that has disobeyed should be vague or ambiguous
  2. Criminal Contempt: According to Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, Criminal Contempt is defined as (i) the publication of any matter by words, spoken or written, or by gesture, or by signs, or by visible representation or (ii) doing of any act which includes:
    1. Scandalize or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court, or
    2. Biasness interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any type of Judicial proceedings, or
    3. obstructs or tends to obstruct, interfere or tend to interfere with the administration of justice in any manner.
Punishment for Contempt of Court

Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 deals with the punishment for Contempt of Court. The High Court and the Supreme Court have been given the power to punish someone for the Contempt of Court. Section 12(1) of this Act states that a person who is alleged with the Contempt of Court can be punished with simple imprisonment and this imprisonment can extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or can be of both type punishment. However, an accused may be discharged or the punishment that was awarded to him maybe remitted on the condition that if he makes an apology and this apology should satisfy the court then only he can be exempted from the punishment of Contempt of Court.

Remedies against Punishment for Contempt of Court

Section 13 has been added in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 after amendment in 2006. The new Act may be called The Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006. Section 13(a)of the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006 states that no Court under this Act shall be punished for Contempt of Court unless it is satisfied that the Contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes or tend to substantially interfere with the due course of Justice. Section 13(b) of this Act states that the court may give the defense on the justification of truth if it finds that the act done in the public interest and the request for invoking that defense is bona fide.


Section 20 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 deals with the limitation for the action of Contempt. It states that no court shall initiate any proceedings of contempt in two circumstances:

  1. Either the proceedings are on his own motion, or,
  2. After the period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.
Case Laws

Sudhakar Prasad vs. Govt. of A.P. and Ors.

In this case, the Supreme Court declared that the powers to punish for contempt are of inherent nature and the provision of the Constitution only recognized the said pre-existing situation. The provision of the Contempt of Court cannot be used to limit the exercise of jurisdiction given in Article 129 and Article 215 of the Constitution.

Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union Of India & Anr

In this case, it was held that the procedural aspect for Contempt of Court may still be prescribed by the Parliament so that it could be applicable in the Supreme Court and the High Court. This means that Section 12(1) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 which prescribed a maximum fine of Rs. 5000 and imprisonment for a term of six months shall be applicable in this case.

Ram Surat Singh v. Shiv Kumar Pandey

In this case, it was held that the object of the law of contempt is not to require a cloak for judicial authorities to cover up their corruption and inefficiency, or to stifle criticism made in good faith against such officers. Administration of justice cannot be effective unless respect for it is fostered and maintained.