Contempt of Court: The Indian Context

INTRODUCTION

The foundation of Indian democracy lies on its three main pillars - the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. Among these the judiciary is entrusted with the mighty task of dispensing justice, with utmost integrity to each and every individual of our country. Therefore, to uphold the solemnity and prominence of this esteemed institution the framers of our constitution placed certain provisions under articles 129[1] and 215[2] of the constitution, which entitles the courts of law to leverage individuals in contempt, if they fail to maintain the cachet or attempt to defiance their authority.[3] This was clearly defined in the case of Bar Association vs. Union of India & Anr.[4] In which the Supreme Court profoundly dwelled with the concept of contempt in the light of these constitutional provisions.

The Latin word contemptus curie better known as contempt of court has been incorporated and used since centuries.[5] the definition of this term was better defined in the judgment given by Lord Diplok in the case of Attorney general vs. the Times newspaper ltd.[6] according to him - “The term ‘Contempt of Court’ is a generic term descriptive of conduct in relation to particular proceedings in a court of law which tends to undermine that system or to inhibit citizens from availing themselves of it for the settlement of their disputes.”


HISTORICITY

In India the concept of contempt has been developed and evolved trough times, although they were different acts which dealt with matters relating to this, there was no profound and exclusive act to deal with the nature of contempt, its scope, circumstantial applicability which led to a lot of ambiguity in the interpretation of these legislations, the primary concern and dispute arose when these acts had to be elucidated in the light of article 19 of the constitution, which contains provisions of freedom of speech and expression, personal liberty etc. This at most times led to friction between the gamut of law enacted and the degree of its constitutionality. There was a need for substantive and fundamental reforms in the existing laws.

Thus a special committee was setup under the chairmanship of H.N Sanyal, the then additional solicitor general in the year 1961 and its report was submitted in the year 1963, which was later transformed and enacted in the form of contempt of courts act 1971, this legislation categorically restructured the laws associated with contempt in India.[7]


CONTEMPT- UNDER THE CONTEMPT OF COURT ACT 1971

The key elements required to constitute contempt under this act are

1. An order or decree passed by competent court of law

2. Knowledge or communication of the order

3. Potentiality of compliance by the contemnor (party)

4. Contumacy of the order.


CLASSIFICATION OF CONTEMPT

The most essential contribution of this act is that it provided a clear demarcation and segregation of civil and criminal contempt along with their definitions respectively.


CIVIL CONTEMPT- defined under section 2(a) of the contempt of court act 1971, it states that willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court amounts to contempt under this category.

In general terms if an individual is subject to entitled by a court’s order, and the respondent who is supposed to entitle him insubordinates, then that person is the contemnor and is liable for contempt.

In the case of Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup[8]An order was given by the court to handover some immovable property, but this was not followed by the contemnor, so on this basis the court had initiated the contempt proceeding against the defendant for willfully disobeying the orders of the civil court.[9]

CRIMINAL CONTEMPT- defined under section 2(c ) of the contempt of court act 1971, states that publication done in the form of words, communicated or written, by visible representations, signals, signs of any matter or any act which –

(i) Scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court; or

(ii) Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding or

(iii) Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any other manner

Explained in the famous case of Justice C.S. Karnan vs. The Honourable Supreme Court of India, In this case the contemnor was a sitting judge of the Calcutta high court, the supreme court had initiated a suo motu contempt proceeding against him for scandalizing the decorum and sanctity of the apex court, he was held liable for criminal contempt of court and sentenced to six months of imprisonment, making him the first sitting judge of an high court in India to be jailed for such act.


PUNISHMENT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT

If a person who does any such immoral act of lowering the dignity of the courts in the eyes of a common man, then to safeguard and to uphold the authority of the court, the contemnor should certainly be punished, hence under section 12 of the contempt of court act 1971, it states that a competent court can punish the contemnor for a term of six months or with a fine of upto two thousand rupees, or it has the leverage of imposing both.[10]

Generally in the matter of civil contempt fine is imposed on the contemnor but under this act the court has the jurisdiction to sentence him/her to imprisonment if it deems necessary, but such period should not exceed six months. Provided that the accused may be remitted of punishment if rendered apology and if the court is satisfied with it[11]

It also contains provisions for contempt committed by a company, in such cases the person who is associated, in charge or was responsible for the conduct of the company is held liable. However, that person’s liability can be discharged if the act was committed without the knowledge of the person, or if exercised with due diligence to prevent its commission.[12]

The courts are bound to impose sentence prescribed in the act and it cannot impose a sentence in excess to it and under section 20 of this act defines the limitation period for action of contempt, it is one year from the date of commission of the act (contempt).


CONCLUSION

There is no scope of doubt that the sanctity and majesty of judiciary should be of highest degree and hence to maintain utmost level of integrity, contempt jurisdiction is very much relevant, the essence and intent of law of contempt is not only to uphold the authority of the courts but also to preserve the confidence of society in the judicial structure. The problem arises when there is improper elucidation of this law which can have a negative effect on the society, it is the role of the judiciary to balance all the aspects present, in the shadow of this law it can neither curtail a person’s right of expression nor it can allow it to harm the judicial system and all this can be balanced only through correct interpretation of law enacted. This becomes more important in a country like ours which has such cultural and intellectual pluralism present, if not inferred in the letter and spirit of the law then this can cause a lot of friction between the fundamental rights provided by the constitution and the provisions of this act, it is the duty of the court to not let this act be used a tool for glorifying personal gentility but as means to ensure and uphold the dignity of the court. There is a very thin difference between dignity of a judge and that of a court, and this delicate balance must always be maintained, for achieving the ultimate and supreme goal for justice without any detriment or prejudice.


REFERENCES

1. The Constitution of India, art 129- Supreme Court to be a court of record The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

2. The Constitution of India, art 215- High Courts to be courts of record Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

3. Anubhav Pandey-All about contempt of court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court/ (visited on 11 December, 2019) (5:37 am)

4. Supreme Court Bar Association vs. Union of India & Anr, AIR 1998 SC 1895

5. Contempt of Court: analysis, https://legaldesire.com/contempt-court-analysis/ (visited on 12 December, 2019) (6:15 pm)

6. Attorney-General v. Times Newspapers Ltd, [1973] 3 W.L.R. 298

7. Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup, AIR 2008 Gau 62: 2008 (2) Gau LR 706

8. Diganth Raj Sehgal-Contempt of Court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court-2/ (visited on 14 December, 2019)(7:19 pm)

9. Vidhikkumar- Contempt of court: analysis, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-472-contempt-of-court-analysis.html (visited on 16 December, 2019) (12:23 am)


Footnotes

[1] The Constitution of India, art 129- Supreme Court to be a court of record The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

[2] The Constitution of India, art 215- High Courts to be courts of record Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

[3] Anubhav Pandey-All about contempt of court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court/ (visited on 11 December,2019)(5:37 am)

[4] Supreme Court Bar Association vs. Union Of India & Anr, AIR 1998 SC 1895

[5] Contempt of court :analysis, https://legaldesire.com/contempt-court-analysis/ (visited on 12 December,2019)(6:15 pm)

[6] Attorney-General v. Times Newspapers Ltd, [1973] 3 W.L.R. 298

[7] Anubhav Pandey -All about contempt of court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court/ (visited on 13 December,2019)(8:25 pm)

[8] Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup, AIR 2008 Gau 62: 2008 (2) Gau LR 706

[9] Diganth Raj Sehgal-Contempt of Court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court-2/ (visited on 14 December,2019)(7:19 pm)

[10] Vidhikkumar- Contempt of court: analysis, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-472-contempt-of-court-analysis.html (visited on 16 December,2019) (12:23 am)

[11] Civil contempt of court-https://litigation.findlaw.com/going-to-court/civil-contempt-of-court.html ( visited on 16 December,2019)(12:28 am)

[12] Diganth Raj Sehgal-Contempt of Court, https://blog.ipleaders.in/contempt-of-court-2/ (visited on 14 December,2019)(7:19 pm)


Submitted by,

Hemanth Kumar,

Year I, B.A.LL.B. (Hons.),

Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.


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