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  • Writer's pictureLolita Delma Crasta

Contempt of Court Requires Stringency

Hiranmayee Ramesh, Nyayshastram.

Contempt of Court’ as history[i]

The entire concept of Contempt of Court is not a new procedure but has evolved over time. In England, there was a common law principle that protected the judicial powers of the king. It was initially exercised by just him and later by a panel of judges who had to act in the name of the king himself. The acts were done against the orders of the king, or the judges of the court were punishable.

a) Provisions of Contempt of Court in Constitution of India

Earlier, the High Courts of the princely states also had rules favouring for the same. When the Constitution was enforced, ‘Contempt of Court’ came as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression. Article 129[ii] of the Constitution gives power to the Supreme Court to punish the person for any Contempt of the Court. Further Article 142(2)[iii] of the Constitution also mentions the powers of the Supreme Court to punish for its Contempt. Article 215[iv] provides such powers to the High Court.

b) Provision under The Contempt of Courts Act,1971[v]

The entire idea of Contempt has been mentioned in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Articles 129 and 215 of the Indian Constitution are subject to the provisions of Article 19(1)(a). However, Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 also gives powers to the High Court to punish for contempt of its subordinate courts. This statue is considered as one of the most powerful legislation in the entire country as it gives the Courts, the powers to restrict individuals’ fundamental rights. Section 2(c) of the Act limits the powers of certain courts in punishing for its contempt. The evolution of this parliamentary act, however, has not been a piece of cake. It particularly defines the extent to which Contempt can be held.

What is Contempt of Court?[vi]

Lord Diplock first defined ‘Contempt of Court’ as a generic term descriptive of conduct concerning particular court proceedings, which tends to undermine the judicial system[vii].

Contempt of Court can be classified into two[viii],

· Civil Contempt; and

· Criminal Contempt.

Civil Contempt is when someone willfully disobeys a court order. In the case, Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup[ix], a decree was passed by the Court for the delivery of immovable property. Due to certain obstructions, the defendant failed to deliver the same. This resulted in Contempt of the Civil Court.

Criminal Contempt is of three forms again:

a) Words, written or spoken, signs and actions that scandalizes or tends to scandalize or lower or tends to lower the authority of any court.

b) Prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding.

c) Interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice.

In the case of Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh[x], a caste derogatory and scandalous advocate attacked the High Court judge. The Court, in this case, held that it was an attempt to intimidate the judge of the High Court and cause an interface in the conduct of a fair trial. Hence it was a clear case of Criminal Contempt of Court.

Making such allegations against the judiciary or judges lowers the authority that such institutions possess, defames its image in public and leads to a loss in its faith. That is why this punishment is considered to be essential by the lawmakers.

Evolution of Contempt of Court Act in India

The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 had followed a series of amendments throughout the years from 1952 from when it was first enacted in India. This Act got the overriding effect from the Contempt of Court Act, 1926 that has existed only in the states of Rajasthan and Saurashtra. Nevertheless, that Act had not defined the term ‘Contempt’. This law had to be dealt with two fundamental rights given by the constitution,

i) Freedom of speech and expression; and

ii) Right to personal liberty.

Shri B B Das Gupta on 1st April 1960 introduced the bill to bring reforms in the existing Act. After examining the bill, the government set up a special committee in 1961 to inspect the matters relating to the existing Act and suggested reforms. This committee under the chairmanship of H N Sanyal finally submitted the report on the 28th February 1963. This report was the background to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971[xi].

In the case Noorali Babul Thanewala v. K M M Shetty[xii], an undertaking was given to the Civil Court by an individual. The court sanctioned a course of action regarding that undertaking, unaware of the fact that the undertaking was incorrect. Hence, it was considered as misconduct, and it amounted to Contempt of Court.

In the case of the Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India [xiii], the court held that the Parliament could prescribe the procedural aspect for Contempt of Court. However, this was overruled in Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat[xiv], where, it was held that the punishment under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 shall apply to the High Court only. For the Supreme Court, it will just act as a guide.

In Sudhakar Prasad v. Govt. of A.P, [xv], the Supreme Court declared that the powers to punish for Contempt are inherent.


The Act provides for laying down the contempt procedures on a higher authority while it fails to include the same power for a lower-lying court. This particular aspect has been in the criticisms list for a long time, and it remains unanswered. The Courts are an ideal platform after which equity is conveyed through the signal of fair treatment. It is the place preferably, natural regard and quiet submission ought to emerge, paying little heed to the co-ordinations associated with the equity conveyance. However, optimism is simply one more point of view, regularly confounded by the real world. While it is accepted that equity served must be acknowledged for what it is worth, that is frequently not the situation. Individuals frequently have changed sentiments that disagree with that of the judgment or even the appointed authority. Since the ones who convey it, become the substance of the judgment's presence, they likewise frequently become the subject of both contradiction and appreciation. At the point when contradiction turns into the front sprinter, it frequently yields results that take the state of Contempt. It may be inactive or decisive yet is frequently coordinated towards the one managing in the Court of law or some instances at the Courts itself.

In an English case, Solicitor General v. Cox[xvi], two people were held liable for Contempt of Court for posting pictures that they had clicked of the Court. The origin of Contempt of Court can also be traced back to the case of King v. Almon[xvii], and from where on the scandalizing of the court became a form of its contempt.

Moreover, the Indian legislation is not as seriously applicable as is in other nations. This is also to be taken into consideration. I personally feel that Contempt needs stringency. It is highly necessary that the Court that provides with verdicts that are considered holy in a country like India should be protected against malpractices against it. The court should not hesitate to go to any extent to protect its own status. Being a law-abiding citizen, I would like to stick to the laws laid down and will support it further even if it extends.


[i] The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. [ii] Art. 129, Constitution of India. [iii] Art. 142, Constitution of India.

[iv] Art. 215, Constitution of India. [v] Supra i [NOTE: Here note i is the footnote number where the Act was first mentioned]. [vi] Law Commission Consultation Paper No 209, Contempt of Court. [vii] Attorney-General v. Times Newspapers Ltd, [1973] 3 W.L.R. 298. [viii] Supra i (NOTE: Here note i is the footnote number where the act was first cited). [ix] Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup, AIR 2008 Gau 62: 2008 (2) Gau LR 706. [x] Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh, 5332(NCE) of 1993. [xi] Review of Contempt of Court Act,,into%20civil%20and%20criminal%20contempt last seen on 22.08.20. [xii] Noorali Babul Thanewala v. K.M.M. Shetty, AIR 1990 S.C. 464. [xiii] Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr, AIR 1998 SC 1895. [xiv] Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr v. State of Gujarat & Ors, (2004) 4 SCC 158. [xv] Sudhakar Prasad v. Govt. of A.P. and Ors., (2001) 1 SCC 516. [xvi] Solicitor General v. Cox [2016] 2 Cr App R 15 193. [xvii] King v. Almon, 243 K.B. 1765.


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