CONTEMPT OF COURT

As on 17th July, 2021, in Delhi’s Karkadooma court in courtroom no 66, one Rakesh, a resident of Shashtri Nagar, got annoyed with his matter pending since 2016. According to the sources, Rakesh broke computers & furniture while shouting the famous dialogue “ Tarikh pe Tarikh”. Rakesh appeared to be flustered with the long dates given in his matter smashed on the dais of the judge inside the courtroom. He was booked under section 186, 353, 427 & 506. Contempt of court can be defined as the act of not obeying an order made by the court or showing a lack of respect to the judge or court. In simple words, contempt of court is disrespect to the court of law. A judge can levy sanctions or penalty to someone for being disobedience to or disrespectful towards the court of law.

Under section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, a person is held accused in civil contempt if they willfully disobey to the authority of court in matters concerning any judgement, decree, direction, order or any writ. As far as the criminal contempt is concerned, a person is charged with offence of criminal contempt if the publication whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visual representation, or otherwise of any matter or the doing of any other act which scandalizes or lowers the authority of court, interferes in the judicial proceedings of court or interfere with administration of justice in any other manner. In the case of Legal Remembrancer v. Motilal Ghose, the Calcutta High Court explained the difference between civil contempt and criminal contempt. The court was of the view that civil contempt consists in failure to obey the order, decree, direction, judgment, writ or process issued by courts for the benefit of the opposing party, the criminal contempt offends the public and consists of conduct that offends the majesty of law and undermines the dignity of the Court.

The Limitation period for the action of contempt has been discussed under Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 and is a period of one year from the date on, which the contempt is alleged to have been committed[1]. Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt. The punishment for contempt of court is given under section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

Whenever the word ‘contempt of court’ is heard or seen in any article, the first thing that pops up in the mind is the most talked about contempt case of Prashant Bhushan. The case had been in the media for a long period. As on 31st August, 2020, the Supreme Court of India held Prashant Bhushan guilty under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The reason according to me was a funny one; Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt of court on August 14 for two tweets against Chief Justice SA Bode and past four CJIs. The Supreme court found that it was based on distorted facts and amounted to a scurrilous and malicious attack on apex court.

Referring to a photo dated June 29 of CJI Bobde sitting on a Hardley Davidson bike, Prashant Bhushan had tweeted, “CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice. The second tweet dated June 27 said, when historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal emergency they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction and more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs. When he was asked to explain his tweets Bhushan refused to apologise and said he stood by his tweets and said if it is construed as contempt and proceedings continued, it would stifle free speech and would constitute an unreasonable restriction on Article 19 that is freedom of speech and expression. So, the SC on 31st August, 2020, sentenced lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan to a Re 1 fine in the contempt of court case, and said he would be jailed for three months and barred from practising for three years if he failed to pay this fine by September 15. On 1st October, 2020, the advocate filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against its decision to fine him a nominal Re. 1 as punishment for committing criminal contempt by ‘scandalising the court’ with his tweet on a picture of the Chief Justice of India on a heavy bike and another about the role of the court in the past six years.

In certain cases, if any person is found guilty while being the member of the company then the person who is in charge of the company would be liable for the contempt of court. The person can be released from the liability if he proves that the contempt was done unintentionally.

In the case of Bar Association vs. Union of India & Anr, the SC held that no act of parliament can take away the inherent jurisdiction of the Court of Record to punish for contempt and the Parliament’s power of legislation on the subject cannot, therefore, be so exercised as to stultify the status and dignity of the Supreme Court and/or the High Courts, though such a legislation may serve as a guide for the determination of the nature of punishment which this court may impose in the case of established contempt[2].

In the case of Paras Saklecha V. Shri Justice A.M Khanwilkar, a Contempt petition was filed against Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court because in the PIL, the petitioner had filed an application that certain words made by the Chief Justice A.M Khanwilkar amounted to contempt. The Division bench who heard the application came to the conclusion that the act of CJ cannot be termed as Contempt of court.

In the case of Re: KK Mishra, the lawyer abused and made allegations of bribery and corruption against Reference Officer (civil judge) and threatened him of the consequences when he would come out the court hours.

I would like to conclude this article by raising a question to the Judiciary that how far the judiciary have succeeded in the task of balancing the freedom of speech and expression as given in the constitution?


[1] Ishita Dwivedi-CONTEMPT OF COURT, Contempt of Court – Aishwarya Sandeep, visited on 06-08-2021 at 12:48hrs.

[2] Important Judgments on Contempt Law in India in India (vakilno1.com), visited on 06-08-2021 at 15:31hrs.

Aishwarya Says:

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