For the proper functioning of a civilized society implementation of proper law and order is something very much required. No social development is possible in its absence as it leads to dishonesty, fearlessness and inappropriate behavior towards the fellow beings.
“Contempt of Court” often referred to as “contempt” is a serious offense of being disrespectful or to be disobedient towards the authorities of law that opposes the dignity of the court and hampers the proceedings of justice.
While bona fide criticism of any system or institution is it judiciary should never be objected upon and subjected to any pretext. Article 215 as well as Article 129 talks about holding an individual in a charge of contempt if an attempt is made to degrade or abject the supreme authority or any ongoing procedure of law.
Contempt can be categorized into two major types:
Firstly, being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom., or,
Secondly, willfully failing to obey a courts order.
Certain guidelines for the jurisdiction have been laid down as follows:
Desirable use of jurisdiction should be economical.
The goal should be to maintain harmonious relation between free criticism and the judiciary.
Freedom of press is very important; even when its direct target is court itself.
Emotions should not become a barrier for the judges as over sensitivity may lead to distortion when criticisms turn to overpower the limits.
It has been seen and debated over many years that this concept of contempt have been seen during ancient period where kings pronouncing judgement would regard any such act as a disgrace towards himself and the entire kingdom and sentences the particular person with heavy penalty.
The constitution makers always had this idea that one of the basic principles of rule of law is to maintain and upheld the dignity of courts. In Indian context almost all the laws are just like the replicas of English (Western) laws, in which the laws, rules and regulations related to contempt are no other exception to it.
Black Law Dictionary defines contempt as:-
‘Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct courts in administration of justice or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity…’
Giving this concept a constitutional touch, the right to freedom of speech and expressions in Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India envisions the idea to express oneself freely on any matter, however limited under reasonable restrictions subjugated to clause(2) of the article.
Ex Attorney General of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, justified robust criticism of judgements; however, severe and painful, as necessary for effective functioning of the judiciary under a democratic set-up.
According to Lord Atkin’s, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny of respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.”
Case: E.M Sankaran Nambbodiripad v T. Narayanana Nambir.
This landmark case clearly states that the freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) does not support right intended under Article 19(2), that the offense of contempt cannot be placed under the rights of free speech and free expressions. The liberty of free expressions for the act of contempt cannot take the defense of such freedoms to allege the courts and any other procedures of law without any limitations.
Freedom to express oneself is the foundation of democracy. It however does not mean to cross all the limits of your power and make the situation irreparable. Heavy and constructive criticisms are the necessary feature for the development of the democracy.
Contempt of Court Amendment Act, 1971:
Section 2(a) of the act gives the terms ‘Civil contempt and Criminal contempt’.
Sections 2(b) and 2(c) of the act defines the above written terms in the following manner:
Civil contempt is a “willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a Court or willful breach of an undertaking given to the court”, while
Criminal contempt is “the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.”
Punishments for contempt of court:
The offense of contempt of court may be punished with a simple imprisonment of 6 months or fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or both. (Punishment can be remitted and the accused can be discharged on the apology given by him/her to the fullest satisfaction of the court, even it being bonafide).
The accused can be made free from such liabilities if he/she able to prove that the contempt was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent its commission.
Nothing mentioned under the act of 1971 can be made applicable on village panchayats or other rural area courts, established under any law.
Realizing the need for doing away with the traditional and conservative approach, the Indian legislature brought in “The Contempt of Court Amendment Act, 2006” and introduced through amendment of a new Section 13(b) that states: “The courts may permit, in any proceedings for contempt of court, justification by truth as valid defense if it is satisfied that it is in public interest and the request for invoking the said defense is bonafide”. With this statutory amendment now defense of truth can be pleaded in contempt of court proceedings if such an assertion of fact was in the public interest and is bona fide. This initiative by legislature through a small step in a move to change the pre-judge notion approach of the judiciary, is a right step, for it recognized the need for balance in exercising the power of contempt jurisdiction by the courts and the right of the citizens to express and hold their ideas.
 G.V. Mahesh Nath & Audhi Narayana Vavili, Contempt of Court and Free Expression- Need for a Delicate Balance (December 5, 2008).
Year II, B.A.LL.B.,
Bharti Vidyapeeth, New Law College, Pune.
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