THE CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971

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The Court directs Contempt of Court when a person or institution contravene or disregard the authority of the court. It is often referred as the power of the court to avert the acts which interrupt the proceedings of the court. In India, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 was enacted with the object to describe and restrict the authority of the court to penalize disrespect of Court. The Act divides contempt into civil contempt and criminal contempt, where ‘civil contempt’ is the intentional violation of the ruling, verdict, order or direction of the court or deliberate contravention of a duty imposed by the court. While ‘criminal contempt’ refers to doing an act which disgusts the power of the court or impedes in the proceedings of the court or encumbers the effective administration of justice by means of publication in any manner.

The act exempts from contempt a person, who publishes a statement in opposition to the court during the pendency of litigation, in reality was ignorant of the fact that the case was pending. A person is not liable to be punished if he distributes a publication mentioned under the Act unknowingly. Moreover, a person shall not be guilty if he publishes reasonable and truthful report of the proceedings of the court. Likewise, just and accurate comment regarding a judicial act or qualities of the case is not contempt within the meaning of the Act. A person is not guilty of contempt for publishing a report in good faith with respect to a presiding officer of the inferior court.

The publication of procedures of the chamber or in camera events are not contempt as provided under the Act. But it leads to contempt if the action breaches any act in force in India, where the court specifically forbids such publication, procedures done in relation to defense of the state and public safety etc. No other legitimate defense is available except those expressly provided under the Act. A person is held guilty of contempt only under the provisions of the Act and the Act shall be interpreted likewise.

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The Act empowers High Court for punishing contempt of inferior courts applying similar practice and proceedings. If the contempt by an inferior court is an offense punishable under Indian Penal Code, the High Court cannot take cognizance of the offense. The High Court shall take up a case even if the contempt is done in the exterior jurisdiction of the High Court. The Act penalizes the offense of Contempt with simple imprisonment and fine. But the accused is given an opportunity to apologize before the Court and if he does so, he will be released or sentence will be remitted. Where the contempt is suspected to have been committed by a company, each person in charge of the company at the time commission of the offense shall be accountable of contempt. In this case, the Act exempts a person from liability if he can prove that the offense was committed without his knowledge.

If the contempt does not significantly impede with the administration of justice, sentence cannot be inflicted. The Apex Court and the High Court shall confine a person in custody, where the court considers that the person is responsible for contempt. In case of criminal contempt, the Superior courts shall take up a case either by itself or by the Advocate General or any other person. An indication can be made by the inferior court or by the Advocate General, if the contempt is a criminal contempt and relates to an inferior court. The provisions of the Act are extended to a Judicial Officer and he shall be liable for contempt in the same way as an ordinary person, but the observations, references or comments made by a judge is exempted from the purview of the Act. The Act also empowers the High Court and the Apex Court to frame rules without contravening the provisions of the Act.

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The Act replaced the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 which was the earlier legislation relating to contempt. The present Act is an endeavor of the Central Government to control disrespect towards judiciary by the ordinary person and the judicial officers. The Act also limits the individuals and institutions from intruding with the administration of justice and usual proceedings of the Court.