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Contempt of Court

June 26, 2021

Introduction:— Meaning of the word “Contempt” is disorderly conduct of a contemnor causing serious damage to the institution of justice administration. Such conduct, with reference to its adverse effects and consequences, can be discernibly classified into two categories: one which has a transient effect on the system and/or the person concerned and is likely to wither away by the passage of time while the other causes permanent damage to the institution and administration of justice. The latter conduct would normally be unforgivable. Therefore, in certain cases, it would be inevitable for the court to take recourse to rigours of the statute. It is the seriousness of the irresponsible acts of the contemnors and the degree of harm caused to the institution and administration of justice which would decisively determine the course which the court should adopt i.e. either drop the contempt proceedings or continue proceedings against the contemnor in accordance with law, Kalyaneshwari v. Union of India(2012) 12 SCC 599.

Contempt of Court means disobedience of the court, by acting in opposition to the authority, justice and dignity thereof. It signifies a wilful disregard or disobedience of the court’s order; it also signifies such conduct as tends to bring the authority of the court and the administration of law into dispute, Baradakanta Mishra v. Bhimsen Dixit(1973) 1 SCC 446: 1973 SCC (Cri) 360. Any act calculated to bring a court or a Judge into contempt or to lower his authority or to interfere with the due course of justice or the lawful process of the court is a contempt of court. Contempt by speech or writing may be by scandalising the court itself or by abusing parties to actions or by prejudicing mankind in favour or against a party before the cause is heard. It is incumbent upon courts of justice to preserve their proceedings from being misrepresented, for prejudicing the minds of the public against persons concerned as parties in causes before the cause is finally heard has pernicious consequences. Speeches or writings misrepresenting the proceedings of the court or prejudicing the public for or against a party or involving reflections on parties to a proceeding amount to contempt. To make a speech tending to influence the result of a pending trial, whether civil or criminal is a grave contempt. Comments on pending proceedings, if emanating from the parties or their lawyers, are generally a more serious contempt than those coming from independent sources, P.C. Sen, In re, AIR 1970 SC 1821: (1969) 2 SCR 649: 1970 Cri LJ 1525. Under the common law definition, “contempt of court” is defined as an act or omission calculated to interfere with the due administration of justice. This covers criminal contempt (that is, acts which so threaten the administration of justice that they require punishment) and civil contempt (disobedience of an order made in a civil cause), Vinay Chandra Mishra, In re(1995) 2 SCC 584. A disobedience to the rules, orders, process or dignity of a court, which has power to punish for such offence by attachment. Contempts are either direct, which only insult or resist the powers of the Court or the persons of the judges who preside there; or consequential, which, without such gross insolence of direct opposition, plainly tend to create a universal disregard of their authority. Every judge of a court of record has power immediately to commit for a contempt committed in his presence, but the power of an inferior court to commit for contempt does not extent to contempt out of court.

Criminal Contempt:—

Criminal Contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which— (i) scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court; or (ii) prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or interferes or tends to interfere with or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner, Section 2(c), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

Any act done or writing published which is calculated to bring a court or a Judge into contempt or to lower his authority or to interfere with the due course of justice or the lawful process of the court is contempt of court. Any episode in the administration of justice may, however, be publicly or privately criticised, provided that the criticism is fair and temperate and made in good faith. The absence of any intention to refer to a court is a material point in favour of a person alleged to be in contempt, Thakur Jugal Kishore Sinha v. Sitamarhi Central Cooperative Bank Ltd., AIR 1967 SC 1494: (1967) 3 SCR 163: 1967 Cri LJ 1380.

Civil Contempt:—

Civil Contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court, Section 2(b), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

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