According to Contempt of Court Act,1971,contempt is classified into civil and criminal. Civil contempt is stated in Section 2(b) of the Act which refers to the wilful disobedience of an order of any court. Criminal contempt is mentioned in Section 2 (c) of the Act which includes any act or publication which:
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner
The Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971 explains the procedure for dealing with criminal contempt (other than Section 14) and reads as follows :
(1)In the case of a criminal contempt, other than a contempt referred to in Section 14, the Supreme Court or the High Court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by-
(a)the Advocate-General, or
(b)any other person, with the consent in writing of the Advocate-General.
(2)In the case of any criminal contempt of a subordinate court, the High Court may take action on a reference made to it by the subordinate court or on a motion made by the Advocate-General or, in relation to a Union Territory, by such Law Officer as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette.
S.K.Sarkar v. Vinay Chanra Misra AIR 1981 SC 723
Facts of the case
- The respondent instituted the suit under Section 209 (Ejectment of persons occupying land without title) of the U.P. Zamindari & Land Reforms Act for ejectment of eleven defendants.
- Plaintiff made an application for stay of the execution of the ejectment decree before the Revenue Board. The opposite made an application for stay of the execution of the ejectment decree before the Revenue Board where Shri Vinay Chandra Misra appeared as the counsel .
- On the said date the opposite party heard the counsel of the parties in the case and was pleased to confirm the stay order. After passing of the order, the opposite party scored the order and vacated the stay order and threw the file for getting the signatures of the parties affixed on the same.
- The opposite party (appellant) scored the order and vacated the stay order and threw the file for getting the signatures of the parties affixed on the same. He also ordered the Court peon to throw the deponent physically out of the Court and used abusive words in respect of Adv.Mishra.
- Later, . Shri V. C. Misra filled a criminal contempt petition in High Court under Section 15 and prayed to the court be pleased to take suo motu action under Section 15(1).
- A preliminary objection was taken by the appellant before the High Court, that was not competent to take cognizance of the contempt alleged to have been committed in the petition moved by Shri Misra without any reference from the subordinate court or without a motion by the Advocate-General by Section 15(2) of the act.
- The Court rejected the objection and held that application was maintainable. Hence the appeal.
Whether High Court can take suo motu cognizance and punish ?
Section 15 of the Act does not specify the basis or the source of information on which the High Court can act on its own motion.
So the Supreme Court laid down the following :
- If the High Court acts on information derived from its own sources such as a perusal of the records of a subordinate Court or on reading a report in a newspaper or hearing from a public speech without any reference from the subordinate Court or Advocate-General, it can be said to have taken cognizance on its own motion.
- If the High Court is directly moved by a petition by a private person feeling aggrieved, not being the Advocate-General, without the consent in writing from Advocate General, the High Court, has, in such a situation, a discretion to refuse to entertain the petition, or to take cognizance on its own motion on the basis of the information supplied to it in that petition.
- If the petitioner is a responsible member of the legal profession, it may act Suo motu more so, if the petitioner prays that the Court should act Suo motu.
- If the High Court is prima facie satisfied that the information received by it regarding the commission of contempt of a subordinate court is not frivolous, and the contempt alleged is not merely technical or trivial, it may, in its discretion, act suo motu and commence the proceedings against the contemner. However, this mode of taking suo motu cognizance of contempt of a subordinate court, should be resorted to sparingly where the contempt concerned is of a grave and serious nature.
- Frequent use of this suo motu power on the information furnished by an incompetent petition may render these procedural safeguards provided in sub-section (2), otiose. In such cases, the High Court may be well advised to avail of the advice and assistance of the Advocate-General before initiating proceedings
The Supreme Court or High Court can take suo motu action even without consent Attorney General if the above conditions are satisfied. The purpose of barring a private person from filing contempt procedure without the consent of Attorney General is to save the court’s time from being wasted in frivolous complaints.
Here , the petition was filled by an Advocate who is a responsible member of legal profession and even prayed to Court to take suo motu action .Therefore the application was maintainable.
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