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Contempt Of Court Act, 1971: An Overview

Essentials of Contempt of Court:

If a person named Akash has to prove that the other person named Sita is guilty of committing an act that is an offence in a court of law. Then he has to show the court that the offence which Sita has done is fulfilling the essential required to commit that act or not. If the essentials of that will be fulfilled then he will be liable for that act. Similarly, every offence has certain exceptions that have to be fulfilled for making the person liable for doing that act.

Contempt of Court also has certain essentials and these are as follows:

  1. Disobedience to any type of court proceedings, its orders, judgment, decree, etc should be done willfully in case of Civil Contempt.
  2. In Criminal Contempt publication' is the most important thing and this publication can be either spoken or written, or by words, or by signs, or by visible representation.
  3. The court should make a valid order' and this order should be in the knowledge of the respondent.
  4. The action of the contemnor should be deliberate and also, it should clearly disregard the court's order.
  5. These essentials should be fulfilled while making someone accused of Contempt of Court.

Types of Contempt of Court in India:

Depending on nature of the case in India, Contempt of Court is of two types:
  1. Civil Contempt
    Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 states Civil Contempt as wilful disobedience to the order, decree, direction, any judgment or writ of the Court by any person or willfully breach of undertakings by a person given to a Court. Since Civil Contempt deprives a party of the benefit for which the order was made so these are the offences essential of private nature. In other words, a person who is entitled to get the benefit of the court order, this wrong is generally done to this person.

    There is a case on the willful disobedience of the court order which a person should know.
    • Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup
      This is the case of non-rendering of assistance, although the court has ordered to render assistance. The decree was executed by the court to deliver immovable property but because of certain obstruction, the defendant failed to do so. Hence, he was held liable for constituting disobedience to the orders of the competent Civil Court.
      Another case is on the breach of an undertaking which leads to Contempt of Court.
    • U.P. Resi. Emp. Co-op., House B. Society v. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority
      In this case, the Supreme Court has directed the Noida Authorities to verify and state on the affidavit details given by persons for allotment of plots. In pursuance of the same direction by the Supreme Court, a person Mr. S filed a false affidavit to mislead the court. The Registry directed a show-cause notice against him to say that why an act of contempt should not be taken against him for misleading the Supreme Court.

      Defences to Civil Contempt:
      A person who is accused of Civil Contempt of the case can take the following defences:
      Lack of Knowledge of the order: A person can not be held liable for Contempt of Court if he does not know the order given by the court or he claims to be unaware of the order. There is a duty binding on the successful party by the courts that the order that has passed should be served to the Individual by the post or personally or through the certified copy. It can be successfully pleaded by the contemner that the A-certified copy of the order was not formally served to him.

      The disobedience or the breach done should not be:
      If someone is pleading under this defence then he can say that the act done by him was not done willfully, it was just a mere accident or he/she can say that it is beyond their control. But this plead can only be successful if it found to be reasonable otherwise your plead can be discarded.

      The order that has disobeyed should be vague or ambiguous: If the order passed by the court is vague or ambiguous or this order is not specific or complete in itself then a person can get the defence of contempt if he says something against that order.

      In R.N. Ramaul v. State of Himachal Pradesh,
      This defence has been taken by the respondent. In this case, the Supreme Court has directed the corporation of the respondent to restore the promotion of the petitioner from a particular date in the service. But the respondent has not produced the monetary benefit for the given period and a complaint was filed against him for Contempt of Court. He pleads for the defence on the given evidence that it has not been mentioned by the court to pay the monetary benefit. Finally, he gets the defence.

      Orders involve more than one reasonable interpretation: If the contempt of any order declared by the court and the order seems to be given more than one reasonable and rational interpretation and the respondent adopts one of those interpretations and works following that then he will not be liable for Contempt of Court.

      Command of the order is impossible: If compliance with the order is impossible or it can not be done easily then it would be taken as a defence in the case of Contempt of Court. However, one should differentiate the case of impossibility with the case of mere difficulties. Because this defence can be given only in the case of the impossibility of doing an order.
  2. Criminal Contempt
    According to Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, Criminal Contempt is Defined as (i) the publication of any matter by words, spoken or written, or by gesture, or by signs, or by visible representation or (ii) doing of any act which includes:
    1. Scandalize or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court, or
    2. Biasness interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any type of Judicial proceedings, or
    3. obstructs or tends to obstruct, interfere or tend to interfere with the administration of justice in any manner.

      Case on Scandalizing the Court:
      • Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh
        In this case an advocate caste derogatory and scandalous attack on the judge of the High Court. An application was filed by an election petitioner in the High Court, who was an advocate. He wanted to seek to stay for further arguments in an election petition and also the transfer of election petitions. These things cause an attack on the judicial proceeding of the High Court and tended to scandalize the Court. It was held in this case that it was an attempt to intimidate the judge of the High Court and cause an interface in the conduct of a fair trial.

Punishment for Contempt of Court:

Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 deals with the punishment for Contempt of Court. High Court and the Supreme court have been given the power to punish someone for the Contempt of Court. Section 12(1) of this Act states that a person who alleged with the Contempt of A court can be punished with simple imprisonment and this imprisonment can extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or can be of both types of punishment.

However, an accused may be discharged or the punishment that was awarded to him maybe remitted on the condition that if he makes an apology and this apology should satisfy the court then only he can be exempted from the punishment of Contempt of Court. Explanation of this sentence is that if the accused made an apology in the bona fide than this apology shall not be rejected on the ground that it is conditional or qualified.

The court can not impose a sentence for Contempt of Court over what is prescribed under the given section of this Act either in respect of itself or of a court subordinate to it.

Remedies against an order of Punishment:

Section 13 has been added in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 after amendment in 2006. The new Act may be called The Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006. This Section tells that contempt of court cannot be punished under certain circumstances or certain cases.

Clause (a) of Section 13 of the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006 states that no Court under this Act shall be punished for Contempt of Court unless it is satisfied that the Contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes or tend to substantially interfere with the due course of Justice.

Clause (b) of Section 13 of this Act states that the court may give the defence on the justification of truth if it finds that the act done in the public interest and the request for invoking that defense is bona fide.

Contempt under Indian Constitution:

Article 129:
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.

Article 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.
Thus, Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India are empowering courts (Supreme Court and High Court) to punish for every act of contempt. Article 129 empowers the Supreme Court, Article 215, on the other hand, empowers High Courts to punish people for their respective contempt.

In the case of Delhi judicial Service Association, Tis Hazari Court, Delhi Vs. The state of Gujarat, AIR 1991 Supreme Court 2176, the Supreme court examined at length its power under article 129 to punish for contempt.

There is, therefore, no room for any doubt that this court has wide power to interfere and correct the judgment and orders passed by any court or Tribunal in the country. In addition to the appellate power, the court has special residuary power to entertain appeals against any order of any court in the country. The plenary jurisdiction of this court to grant leave and hear appeals against any order of a court and Tribunals confers the power of judicial superintendence over all the Courts and Tribunals in the territory of India including subordinate courts of Magistrate and District Judge. This court has, therefore, supervisory jurisdiction over all courts in India.

Examining the powers of a court of record, it concluded that a court of record has the inherent power to punish for contempt of all courts and Tribunals subordinate to it to protect these subordinate courts and Tribunals.

The powers of the Supreme Court can be summarized as under:

Article 141:
Law declared by Supreme Court to be binding on all courts � The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India�.

Article 142:
Enforcement of decrees and orders of supreme court and orders as to discovery, etc.
  1. The Supreme court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order, as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter, pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner, as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe.
  2. Subject to the provisions of any law made on this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the term income tax officer 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.�
Article 144:
Civil and Judicial Authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court. � All authorities, civil and judicial, in the terrain come tax officer of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.
A bare reading of Article 129 clearly shows that this Court is a Court of The record shall have all the powers of such a Court of Record including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

This is a constitutional power that cannot be taken away or in any manner abridged by statute. However Article 142 provides that this Court can punish any person for contempt of itself but this power is subject to the provisions of any law made by parliament. A comparison of the provisions of Article 129 and clause (2) of Article 142 clearly shows that whereas the founding fathers felt that the powers under clause (2) of Article 142 could be subject to any law made by parliament, there is no such restriction as far as Article 129 is concerned. The power under clause (2) of Article 142 is not the primary source of the power of the Court of Record which is Article 129 and there is no such restriction in Article 129.

Limitation on Power to initiate contempt:

Section 20 of the contempt of Court act 1971 states that No court shall initiate any proceedings of contempt, either on its own motion or otherwise, after the expiry of a period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed�.

The Supreme Court in Om Prakash Jaiswal v. G.K. Mittal AIR 2000 SC 1136, has interpreted the expression initiate any proceedings for contempt' in Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971. It was held that the word initiate' means introductory steps or action or the first move. Black's Law Dictionary was referred to and it was observed that initiation of contempt proceedings' takes place when the court applies its mind to allegation and decides to direct the alleged contemnor under Section 17 to show-cause as to why he should not be punished.

The powers of the Supreme Court to initiate contempt are not in any manner limited by the provisions of the Act. This Court is vested with the constitutional powers to deal with the contempt. Section 15 is not the source of the power to issue notice for contempt. It only provides the procedure in which such contempt is to be initiated and this procedure provides that there are three ways of initiating a contempt:
  • suo
  • motu
  1. on the motion by the Advocate General/Attorney General/SolicIncome tax officer General and
  2.  based on a petition filed by any other person with the consent in writing of the Advocate General/Attorney General/SolicIncome tax officer General. As far as suo motu petitions are concerned, there is no requirement for taking consent of anybody because the Court is exercising its inherent powers to issue notice for contempt. This is clear from the provisions of the Act and clear from the Rules laid down by this Court.

Landmark Contempt Judgments:

  • Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union Of India & Anr
    In this case, the Judge held that procedural aspect for Contempt of Court may still be prescribed by the Parliament so that it could be applicable in the Supreme Court and the High Court. This means that Section 12(1) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, prescribed a maximum fine of Rs. 5000 and imprisonment for a term of six months shall be applicable in this case.
  • Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr vs State Of Gujarat & Ors
    It was held in this case that the punishment that is given for contempt in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 shall only apply to the High Court but for Supreme Court, it acts as a guide. The judgment that was given was not accompanied by rationality, this was worrisome because the Supreme Court has been given great powers that the drafters of the Indian Constitution has also not been given.
  • Sudhakar Prasad vs. Govt. of A.P. and Ors.
    This case is also similar to the Supreme Court Bar Association Case. In this case also once again the Supreme Court declared that the powers to punish for contempt are inherent in nature and the provision of the Constitution only recognized the said pre-existing situation.

    The provision of the Contempt of Court cannot be used to limit the exercise of jurisdiction given in Article 129 and Article 215 of the Constitution.
  • Conclusion:
    Everyone must respect the decisions of courts and no one can interfere with the working of courts. The law relating to contempt has developed only on this broad basis. As we all are aware of the proverb that Justice delayed is justice denied�. Thus, due to unnecessary litigation, the genuine assessee suffered a lot.

    He has to spend handsome money in hiring the professionals and sometimes huge refunds got stuck with the department which led to the closure of businesses and the economy suffers as the resources are spent over an already settled issue which renders it a useless exercise.

    An effective system should be built so that Assessing Officers can be made accountable for the appeals filed by them to ensure that only genuine cases are being appealed. If they failed to do so, it would undermine the respect for the law laid down by Courts and the constitutional authority of Courts and their conduct would, therefore, be condemned by the principles underlining the law of contempt.

    It should be constantly borne in mind that the jurisdiction exercised by superior Courts in punishing contempt of their authority exists to prevent interference with the course of justice and for maintaining the authority of law as is administered in the Court and thereby affording protection to the public interest in the purity of the administration of justice. This is certain that power to punish for contempt is an extra-ordinary power that must be sparingly exercised but where the public interest demands it, the Court will not shrink from exercising it and imposing punishment even by way of imprisonment, in cases where a mere fine may not be adequate.

    Written by Tanya Khan

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