Contempt Of Court

by Akansha Anand


Contempt of court is an offense in the eyes of law, it means being disobedient, disrespectful towards a court or its officers in the form of behavior.

The contempt by a person shakes the dignity of the court and its authority that has provided by law to do its work. The doer of contempt of court is punishable by imprisonment or fine as prescribed by the law.

The law has prescribed limits of jurisdiction and has also given the procedure to be followed in a judicial proceeding or say to conduct judicial proceedings. Therefore, the contempt of court comes into force when a person disrespects the court or its officers during the judicial proceedings in the court of law.

Interpretation in  Law:

Contempt of Court has been described in Section 2(a), which states the kinds of contempt of court namely- civil and criminal. Under Indian law more provisions have been made under the Indian Constitution, they are Article 129 and Article 142(2).

Article 129

Under this Article of Indian Constitution it states that the Supreme Court of India shall be known as Court of Records, it is the power that makes decisions, Acts, proceedings of a court to register and bounding on the lower authority. Thus, that means the Supreme Court of India is the higher authority of the judiciary and its decision, acts and proceedings will be binding on all lower judicial authority. Hence, the Supreme Court of India will be known as the Court of Records.

Article 142(2)

Article 142(2) of Indian Constitution states that The Supreme Court of India will have inherent powers, it will on behalf of the Parliament of India have all and every power to make any order to secure the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself within the territory of India. This provision talks about the power of the Supreme court of India to punish for Contempt of Court.

Essentials Of Contempt Of Court

Essential to any act of offense is important to constitute that offense. That means just like other offenses, Contempt of Court offense has also its essentials which are important to constitute it and make it an offense that will be punishable by law. These essentials also work as an exception to the person who is going to be convicted. They can also be named as limitations and loopholes in the law. The essential of Contempt of Court are as follow-

  • Disobedience or disrespect to any judgement, decree, order or any process of a court by wilful conduct is Contempt of Court. Here, wilful is an important element.
  • In Criminal Contempt of Court. The conduct of the contemnor should be published which means it should be done in orally, written, implied or express. Here publication is an important element of the Contempt of Court.
  • The order that has been passed by the court should be valid, legally binding on the respondent and it should be in his knowledge. Here, valid order/judgement and knowledge of the respondent is important essential.
  • The action of the contemnor should be disrespectful and disregarded for the court of law.

Thus, these are important essential to make someone liable for the contempt of court.

Kinds Of Contempt Of Court-

The types of Contempt of Court according to Lord Hardwick are-

  • Scandalizing the court itself.
  • Abusing parties who are concerned or connected to the case or present in the court while proceedings.
  • Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.

However, in India, two major kinds has been made of Contempt of Court. They are-

  1. Civil contempt 
  2. Criminal contempt

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt has been defined under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act. 1971. It states that any person who does disobedience of any judgement, order, decree, any direction or any other process by a court of law by his wilful conduct or wilfully breaches the undertaking given by court shall be punishable under civil contempt under this act.

Thus from the above-mentioned definition following are the essential of civil contempt-

  • Disobedience to any judgement, order, direction, decree, and writ to the process of law.
  • The disobedience must be by wilful conduct and intention.

Defences of Civil Contempt

  • Lack of Knowledge of The Order: Knowledge is one of the essentials of Civil Contempt. Hence, the lack of knowledge of the order of the court to the respondent can be used as an exception or as a defence to Civil Contempt.
  • No Communication of Order: No communication of the order to the respondent can be used as defence as if the court has not communicated it to the respondent.
  • Command of Order is Impossible: When an order was given by the court and there are no chances for the same to be done and it is so difficult that the person is not able to do it, then this defence can be used by the contemnor.
  • Order Has More Than One Interpretation: When an order has given by the court covers more than one reasonable interpretation and the person has done it in other reasonable interpretations, then the person cannot be held for contempt of court.
  • Order Is Not Legal: When the order given by the judge is not legal which means it is not legally enforceable then the respondent is not bound to do it. Hence, this can also use as a defence.

Criminal Contempt

Criminal Contempt has been defined under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. It states that Criminal Contempt is the publication by words spoken, words written, or by signs, visible representation, or any other method, done any act of any matter which results in-

  • Scandalises authority of the court or tends to scandalise, lower or tend to lower the authority of the court.
  • Prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceedings.
  • Interfere or tends to interfere, obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice.

Thus the abovementioned definition contains some essential to be criminal contempt, they are-

  1. Publication of any matter.
  2. Scandalizing or lowering the authority of the court.
  3. Prejudices or interfere with the due course of legal proceedings.
  4. Obstruction to the administration of justice.

Defences against criminal contempt

  • Innocent Publication & Distribution Of Matter: Section 3 of contempt of court act, 1971 deals with this defence, and it says that if a person has innocently published and has done distribution of matter then he is not responsible for his react.
  • Fair & Accurate Report Of Judicial Proceedings: Section 4 of the contempt of court, 1971 deals with this defence. It states that if the person has fairly made a report of judicial proceedings which is also accurate. Then he will not be held guilty for his actions.
  • Fair Criticism Of Judicial Act: Section 5 of the contempt of court act, 1971 deals with this defence, it states that if a person has publically criticism any act of judiciary which is valid as the act is opposed to the public policy. Then the person will not be held liable.

Punishment For Contempt Of Court

Section 12 of contempt of court act, 1971 deals with the punishment of contempt of court. It states that whoever done the contempt of court shall be liable for the imprisonment can extend to six months. Or fine extend to two thousand rupees or both.

However, some remedies help the person to get a discharge of his punishment, for example- appeal or apology. If the court get satisfies with the explanation of the contemnor, it will grant him punishment free. The court cannot exceed his power established by the contempt of court act, 1971 for the punishment by itself or any other lower authority court, if it has done so the decision will be ultra-vires.

Remedies Against The Punishment Order

The following are the remedies that have been stated in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. They are-

  • Apology: The contemnor by making an apology to the court and stating his explanation get can rid of the punishment of contempt of court, only if court satisfies for the same.
  • Appeal: Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 has stated the right to appeal against the order or judgement of the High Court. This protects the right of the citizen to right to appeal like the appeal in other cases.
  • Section 13 Of The Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971:Under Section 13 of this Act the legislature has added the remedies by the Amendment Act of 2016 that is-
  1. Clause (a) of Section 13 states that the court will punish the person, only if it satisfies that the act was done by the person interferes or obstructs the due course of justice.
  2. Clause (b) of Section 13 states that the court will give the defence to give a justification of the truth and it finds that it has done in the public interest only.


Anything that is done to curtail the freedom of the proceedings of the judiciary and any conduct that brings the administration of law into disrespect or disregard, that the conduct also interferes with prejudices parties on their witness during litigation in civil or criminal law is the Contempt of Court.

The contempt should be actual interference in the justice doing processes. In India, the power of contempt of court has only granted to high courts within the territory of India and the Supreme Court of India but it should also be granted to lower courts. Contempt of Court if it is seen by the perspective of judges, the perspective of higher judges will be good but in the eyes of lower judges will be bad.

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