This article on ‘Contempt of Court: All You Need to Know‘ was written by Divya Vijayan, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
In this article, we will take a look at the concept of contempt of court. We will understand the meaning of the term and its different types. We will also understand various defences that can be used against the guilty verdict of contempt of court, both for civil contempt and criminal contempt. Finally, we will also take a look at famous case laws regarding contempt of court.
What is Contempt of Court?
Contempt of Court means a violation or being disobedient to the court or to an order of the judge by an individual or it can also be considered as an act of disrupting the legal proceedings of the court. Article 129 of the Constitution of India says that the Supreme Court would be a “court of record” and it will also possess the power to punish for contempt. Article 215 of the Constitution says that every High Court of the country would be seen as a “court of record” and also would have the power to punish for contempt.
The Constitution also includes contempt of court as a reasonable restriction under Article 19 (2) to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19.
Contempt of Court Act,1971
The Act does not properly define the exact meaning of contempt of court except for stating that it is civil contempt or criminal contempt which is given under section 2(a) of the Act.
Civil Contempt which is provided under section 2(b) of the Act occurs when an individual willfully disobeys any order, judgment or decree passed by the court.
Defences of civil contempt:
- Lack of knowledge on the respondent side about the order of the court.
- The order passed by the court wasn’t under its jurisdiction.
- There was no willful disobedience of the court’s order.
- The order passed was vague and ambiguous in nature.
- The order passed has more than one meaning.
Criminal Contempt is provided under section 2(c) of the Act which means any written or spoken publication or doing any act that scandalises, obstructs or interferes with any judicial proceedings or administration of justice.
Defences of criminal contempt:
- If the publication made was private in nature.
- If the person who made the publication had no clue about the pendency of the case or suit.
- If the publication was fair and had accurate reporting.
- If the publication defames any judge in a private setting.
Section 12(1) of the Act talks about punishment for contempt of court. It states that if any person is found to be guilty of an offence then such person would be published with simple imprisonment that may extend up to 6 months or levy a fine that may extend up to rs. 2000/- or both.
Landmark Case Laws on Contempt of Court
- In Re Prashant Bhushan and another
In this case, the Supreme Court of India initiated a suo motu petition against a public interest lawyer, Mr Prashant Bhushan for posting two tweets on Twitter about the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India which the court deemed was malicious in nature and would undermine and destroy the faith of people in the judicial system. The Supreme Court held that the tweets had an “effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”. Hence the Court held Mr Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court and imposed a fine of rs. 1/- as the punishment.
- In Re Vinay Chandra Mishra
In this case, the Supreme Court suspended the licence of a senior advocate, Mr Vinay Chandra Mishra to practice in the court on grounds of contempt of court. This decision was challenged in the case of the Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union of India which was then overruled. It was later held that the court does not have the authority to debar an advocate by suspending their license when found guilty of contempt of court. Such authority only lies with that particular State Bar Council or the Bar Council of India, under the Advocates Act, 1961.
- Abhyudaya Mishra v. Kunal Kamra
In this case, a famous stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra has been said to have scandalised the court by posting certain publications on the social media platform- Twitter. The tweets were allegedly criticising the Supreme Court for fast-tracking the bail plea of Arnab Goswami for abetting a suicide. Hence the instigation of the contempt complaint.
In response, the comedian said that he did not post those tweets to diminish the authority of the court or to diminish the faith of the people in the court and that his tweets do not have the ability to shake the very foundation of the “most powerful court in the world”. He continued by stating that in a democratic country no public institution of power should be above criticism.
The Attorney General of India expressed that attacking the Supreme Court of India without any merit in the claims will attract punishment which is prescribed under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
Contempt of Court essentially means lowering the reputation or defaming the court and its presiding officers and also interfering in the judicial proceedings. The main reason why individuals are held guilty of contempt of court is to uphold the integrity, respect and faith of the people in the country’s judicial system.
This prompts every person to be respectful to the judiciary. Many are of the belief that this has the potential to curb the freedom of speech and expression which is provided under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution but this could not be far from the truth. Every citizen of India is allowed to have and voice their opinion about the judicial system but that has to be done in a manner that is respectful to the court.
- Contempt of Court. Insights IAS. February 2, 2022. Retrieved from:- https://www.insightsonindia.com/2022/02/02/contempt-of-court-7/#:~:text=Article%20129%20and%20215%20of,contempts%20of%20its%20subordinate%20courts.
- The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. India Code. Retrieved from:- https://www.indiacode.nic.in/handle/123456789/1514?sam_handle=123456789/1362#:~:text=India%20Code%3A%20Contempt%20of%20Courts%20Act%2C%201971&text=Long%20Title%3A,their%20procedure%20in%20relation%20thereto.&text=Contempt%20of%20court%20rules%2C%20high%20Court%2C%20madras%2C%201975.
- In Re Prashant Bhushan, Twitter Communications India Pvt. Ltd. Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University. Retrieved from:- https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/in-re-prashant-bhushan-twitter-communications-india-pvt-ltd/
- Supreme Court on Contempt by Advocates. LegalServiceIndia. Retrieved from:- https://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/sc_t.htm
- Supreme Court To Consider Contempt Cases Against Comedian Kunal Kamra after 4 Weeks. Law Insider India. Retrieved from:- https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.lawinsider.in/trending/supreme-court-to-consider-contempt-cases-against-comedian-kunal-kamra-after-4-weeks%3famp