• Legis Scriptor

Contempt of Court

Authored by Shanti Gupta

Keywords: Constitution, Supreme Court, Act, Provision, High Court, Power, Punish.


This Article is written by Shanti Gupta, a student of the Indian Institute of Legal Studies, Siliguri. This article provides insights into the Contempt of Court "Justice should not only be done but also seen to be done". People should be perceived as their justice being done and there is the golden rule that maintained the fate of the people in the Judiciary. The aggrieved party or the victim whoever he or she may be and the accused i.e., the person, who is accused both should have full fate in the Judiciary otherwise the system will be collapsed.

Contempt proceeding is another domain that is controversial and it has, and supporters who believe that is necessary to ensure the functioning of the court without undue stray person influence and public pressure. What are the provisions which are there to punish for contempt also discussed in this article? This paper is an attempt to discuss in brief what is Contempt of Court. It tries to take an overview of the Contempt of Court.

Contempt of Court

The term period Contempt of Court has no longer been described with the aid of using the Constitution. As consistent with the contempt of Court Act of 1971, Contempt refers back to the offense of displaying disrespect to the authority of the courtroom docket which means you are doing something to malign the image of the court. So the Contempt is divided into two parts that mean civil contempt or criminal contempt.

Civil contempt means you are willfully disobeying the Supreme decision. For example- You are willfully disobeying to the judgment of the Supreme Court or the direction of the Supreme Court.

Criminal contempt means you are trying to malign the image of the Supreme Court or you are trying to scandalize the court or you are trying to obstruct the path of justice.

So this Act of 1971 defines the power of courts to punish for the contempt of court. Now the Supreme Court and High Court have the power to punish for the contempt of court that means the Supreme Court can punish not only for contempt for itself but it can also punish for the content of any judgment of the High Court or any Subordinate Court which is functioning in our country.

Similarly, the High Court has been given special powers to punish the contempt of subordinate courts as per section 10 of this contempt of Court Act of 1971. So the Supreme Court and high court have the powers to punish for the contempt of the courtroom docket. As per Article 129, the Supreme Court has the power to punish for the contempt on the other hand as per Article 215 High Court has the powers to punish for the contempt.

The need for Contempt of Court Provisions

Judiciary performs a crucial position in a democracy. So the purpose of this contempt jurisdiction is to ensure the dignity of the judiciary, contempt powers safeguard the dignity of courts and it safeguards the status of the judiciary. It also ensures the public trust and the judges can function without any fear or favor. The problem with the contempt is that it is against freedom of speech that means against Article 19.

So these contempt powers are often criticized because they are contrary to the provisions of freedom of speech and expression that mean as per Article 19 you have the right to express yourself while the contempt provisions put a limitation on the people's freedom to speak against the courts proceeding.

The second issue is that it is always criticized that this law is very subjective. Subjective means it has different interpretations and therefore in some cases, it might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily which means it can be misused. So this is the second Criticism of this contempt of code provisions.

The third issue is that it can give the wrong signal. Judiciary is one of the pillars of democracy and in a democracy, people have the real power. So people can question the institution of democracy be it the judiciary be it legislature. So this contempt of court provisions gives a wrong signal that the judiciary is not tolerant of the Criticism and it is very sensitive to the Criticism which is not a good sign of democracy because in a democracy every Institution is subject to criticism by the people and people can question every institution. So these are the issues associated with the contempt of court provisions.

Now in the context of contempt of court, there are significant landmark judgments. So first such judgment is P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others[[i]], case, so in this case, Supreme Court observed that the contempt jurisdiction should not be used by the judges to uphold their dignity what does that mean, it means the contempt of court provisions should be used only in case of Court, not in case of judges that means judges should not invoke this provision to uphold their dignity. Judges should welcome the Criticism as long as the Criticism does not hamper the administration of justice.

So this is a landmark judgment in this case. In Arundhati Roy vs Unknown[[ii]] case, the Supreme Court observed that a fair Criticism of conduct of a judge or criticism of the institution of the judiciary may not amount to contempt of this, as it was done in the public interest that means if the Criticism is being done in the public interest then that may not amount to contempt of court. So these two judgments are significant in this scenario. So in a free society Criticism of the judiciary is inevitable. Therefore there is a need to revisit the contempt law and need to specify the provisions that in what scenario it should be used. So that it's misuse can be prevented the contempt power should not be allowed to be used as a means to prevent Criticism of an institution. Contempt provisions should be invoked. If there is obstruction of justice but it should not hamper the healthy Criticism of the institutions of the judiciary.


It is the offense in the regulation of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a courtroom docket of regulation and it's an officer within the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. High Court and Supreme Court are bestowed with the power to punish. The Act of 1971 permits the High Court to punish for the contempt of subordinate courts. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution offers the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. But Articles 129 and 215 delivers the power of contempt of courtroom docket to the better judiciary, and this power limits the liberty granted by way of means of Article 19(1)(a).

The power to punish for contempt is specifically provided, with the caveat that Parliament may legislate on how it is to be investigated and punished. As with powers under Article 142, SC has routinely described its powers to punish for contempt as being in the exercise of its 'inherent jurisdiction'. This draws from the common-regulation doctrine that Courts that document their orders are enabled to punish individuals for now no longer complying with them. However, as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed that SC is a creature of the Constitution and powers to punish for contempt are provided for, especially because they are not, in fact, inherent.

Foot Notes:

[i] Equivalent citations: 1988 AIR 1208, 1988 SCR (3) 547. [ii] AIR 2002 SC 1375, 2002 (1) BLJR 811, 2002 CriLJ 1792, JT 2002 (2) SC 508, RLW 2002 (3) SC 398, 2001 (8) SCALE 316 a, (2002) 3 SCC 343, 2002 2 SCR 213, 2002 (1) UJ 491 SC. References: I. II. III.