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Punishment For Disrespecting The Courts: Contempt Of Court

Commencing with the meaning of contempt which means disgrace or dishonor. The attitude of being disrespectful towards the parliament or the legislative body is termed as the contempt of parliament or contempt of congress. The same coin when flipped towards the courts at large, where the disrespect or being disobedient towards the court of law and interfering in the powers of the judicial officers is known to be contempt of court.

Every law is made for the society, it is an offense of sui generis[1] while in society every person is secured under some of the other laws, we have fundamental rights, the citizenship act, the motor vehicle acts, so primarily this was made to have laws and orders and to protect the powers of the judiciary.

The movies or acts showcasing just with the view of entertainment where the actor is shouting and disrespecting the judge or the court for attracting the attention could be a great example of contempt of court, in reality, this could not be practiced and if it does, there is punishment for the same.

This contempt could be traced from the English law. The right of the Indian high courts to punish a person was first recognized by the privy council in the judicial committee, 1926 the contempt of court act came into existence which now has been amended till then it gives the powers to the court of and about how much punishment the judge can give for the contempt of court, while the contempt of court came into existence in British India, different states came with their correspondent enactments.

The introduction of this act and actually giving punishments under this act at the initial points gave rise to questions like they violated the fundament rights of personal liberty and the right to freedom of speech and expression which are given under article 21 and 19(1) respectively of The Constitution of India 1950. Since even the preamble contains the basic structure [2] of our constitution, which includes LIBERTY of thoughts and expression. In effect of this a committee was called up under the chairmanship of then additional solicitor general in which importance was given to the freedom of speech and expression.

Types Of Contempt Of Court

The Indian provisions do not clearly state the contempt of court but section 2(a) of The Contempt of Courts,1971 says:
contempt of court means civil contempt or criminal contempt. Section 2(b) & section 2(c) of The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines civil and criminal contempt. Thus contempt cannot be defined in a confined way for definition. Therefore, anyone offending the court's dignity or prestige, is what the court needs to resolve under their power after seeing the facts and circumstances.

In India there are two types of contempt, one is civil contempt and the other is criminal contempt. The objective of this to support the administration of the judiciary.

Civil Contempt

has been defined in the act as willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or another process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.[3]

The willful breach of an undertaking given to a court amounts to civil contempt within the meaning of Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act. The respondents having committed a breach of the undertaking is given to the Supreme Court in the consent terms they are clearly liable for having committed contempt of court.[4]

Ashok Paper Kamgar Union and Ors. vs Dharam Godha And Ors.[5] In this case, it mentions the meaning of willful, which means an act or an omission that is done intentionally with a specific reason to do something which the law forbids or fails to do which the law requires to be done, with the sense of disregarding or disrespecting the law.

Criminal Contempt

has been defined in the act as 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:
  1. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
  2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
  3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.[6]
After referring to the definition of criminal contempt in Section 2(c) of the Act, the court found that the terminology used in the definition is borrowed from the English Law of contempt and embodies certain concepts which are familiar to that law which, by and large, was applied in India.

The expressions scandalized, lowering the authority of the court, interference, obstruction and administration of justice have all gone into the legal currency of our sub-continent and have to be understood in the sense in which they have been so far understood by our courts with the aid of English Law, where necessary.[7]

The main purpose and principle of criminal contempt of court are to uphold the power and dignity of the courts in the eyes of the people and even in the eyes of the law, so nobody can hamper it so easily by any means of written or spoken which tends to hamper the administration of justice or lowers the authority of any the court, it amounts to criminal contempt of court. Society questioning the integrity and the power of the courts and their administration.

After this definition defamation must have come in some minds, because that is basic within the law knowledge, when somebody brings down the reputation of the other person, here the court. But there is a difference between criminal contempt of court and criminal defamation as the right to reputation is guaranteed under article 21 which is the right to life. It has been held that the right to reputation is a facet of the right to life and is enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution[8]

While on one hand a person practicing its fundamental right of right to speech and expression, maybe at some point it can be an interference with the court of judicial proceedings. There could be situations where one is just asking, whereas, on the other, the opposite person has been defamed. Here it is solely in the hand of the judge to clear a line between the two. With the view point of protecting the society at large from matter like these which tends to lose hope in the judicial service which the courts are providing, punishment concept came forward.

Punishment For Contempt Of Court

The power to punish in the case of contempt of court is vested in the hand of the judges, not for their administrative disturbances or their own personal protection but for the public justice. The punishment for contempt of court is given under section 12 of The Contempt of Court act, 1971 is a simple imprisonment which may extend to six months or with a fine extending to rupees two thousand or both.

The Position Of Contempt Of Court Under The Constitution Of India Article 129

In The Constitution Of India 1949 - 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.

The expression �court of record� has not been defined in the constitution. In Halsbury's law of England, this expression has been defined as:
whether a court is a court of record or not or not depends or whether it has power to fine or imprison whether for contempt of itself or other substantive offenses. Courts of record are such as have been expressly made so by statute or by implication of a statute. That is by having statutory power to fine or imprisonment, as courts of record at common law.[9]

As observed by the supreme court, in re Vinay Chandra mishra[10]and in judicial service association v state of gujarat[11]the jurisdiction of the supreme court to punish for contempt is independent of the statutory law of contempt enacted by parliament under entry 77 of list 1 of the seventh schedule. It is sui generis. It cannot be controlled by any statute. Neither contempt of courts act or advocates act can be pressed to restrict it. The jurisdiction and power under article 142 are supplementary to do complete justice. Article 129 vests the supreme court with the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts and subordinate courts.

Article 215- high court to be a court of record:

whether article 215 declares the power of the high court already existing in it by reason of its being a court of record or whether the article confers the power inherent in a court of record, the jurisdiction is a special one not arising or derived from the contempt of courts act, 1952[12]

Power of the supreme court or high court to punish for contempt is not to be restricted by ordinary legislation. This power is to be used sparingly. [13] Power to punish for contempt is to uphold the majesty of the law and administration of justice and not to vindicate the dignity and honor of the individual judge who is personally attacked or scandalized. The foundation of the judiciary is the trust and confidence of the people in its ability to deliver fearless and impartial justice.[14]

Article 144:

Civil and judicial authorities to act in aid of the supreme court. article 144 says that all authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the supreme court.

Such a provision is necessary because Supreme Court has no independent machinery to implement its decision, nor it is feasible. However, a decision of the court would be meaningless if it cannot be implemented. The purpose of resolving disputes will be frustrated by implementing authority. Keeping this in view the framers of the Indian constitution imposed a duty upon all civil and judicial authorities of the country to help in implementing its decisions. This provision created a dilemma before the government when speaker Bora Babu Singh refused to obey the order of the supreme court.

Section 141:

provides that the law declared by the supreme court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Where a decision of a high court is set aside from the supreme court, the supreme court�s decision becomes the law of the land and by virtue of article 141 becomes binding on all courts in the territory of India including the high court.

Contempt of the court is primarily with the motive of securing the society, because the judiciary is the trust and confidence of people for its ability to give fearless and impartial judgments. This power should be given even in the hands of the lower courts and not just the high courts, for a better service.

  1. Oaramjit Kaur vs State Of Punjab & Ors on 10 September, 1998
  2. Keshavananda bharti v. state of kerala & minerva mills ltd. v. union of India.
  3. Section 2 (b) of The Contempt of Courts Act 1971
  4. Rama Narang vs Ramesh Narang & Another on 15 March, 2007
  5. AIR 2004 SC 105
  6. Section 2(c) of the contempt of courts act 1971
  7. In Re: Arundhati Roy vs Unknown on 6 March, 2002
  8. State of Bihar v. Lal Krishna Advani & Others (2003) 8 SCC 361
  9. Halsbury�s laws of England (2nd ed) p.527
  10. (1995) 2. SCC 584
  11. (1991) 4 SCC 406
  12. Ibid.,at p.859
  13. Pritam pal v high court of MP AIR 1992 SC 904
  14. In re arundhati roy AIR 2002 SC 1375, 1379

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