Contempt of court can be either civil or criminal, according to the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971. Wilful disobedience to a court’s judgement, decree, directive, order, writ, or other procedure, or wilful breach of an undertaking filed to a court, is classified as civil contempt. The highest court is a “Court of Record,” according to Article 129, with all of the powers of a court of record, including the capacity to punish for contempt of court/contempt of itself. Furthermore, under article 142(2), the supreme court has the authority to investigate and punish any disrespect of the supreme court.
Similarly, article 215 declares high courts to be a “court of record” with all of the powers of a court of record, including the power to punish for contempt of court. The constitution, as well as the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, govern the power to punish for contempt of both the high court and the supreme court. The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 does not define contempt; rather, it explains the two categories of contempt: civil and criminal.
Simple imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to two thousand rupees, or both may be imposed for contempt of court, provided that the accused is dismissed or the punishment imposed is remitted when the accused makes an adequate apology to the court.
Importance of Contempt of Court
Contempt is the legal term for disobedience to a court of law or its decision. Recognizing and prosecuting contempt of court is crucial for a society like India, which was built on the rule of law and requires the supremacy of the law, because the judiciary is viewed as the last bastion of hope and justice for people of any activity.
The goal of punishment is both curative and corrective, according to the Supreme Court bar association v. Union of India (1995), and these coercions are meant to aid an individual complainant in implementing his remedy. There is also a public policy element to punishing civil contempt because disobeying a court of law’s order would jeopardise the administration of justice.
Kinds of contempt of court
The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 governs contempt of court and distinguishes between two categories of contempt.
Civil contempt [Section 2(b)]
Section 2(b) defines civil contempt as the willful disobedience of a court’s judgement or decree, or the willful breach of a court’s undertaking.
Civil contempt is defined in such a way that it can be determined by a reasonable person of ordinary prudence. Civil contempt is a quantitative object that is not based on the subjective behaviours of a person. The fact of disobedience will be considered civil contempt if a judicial order has been knowingly disobeyed.
Criminal Contempt [Section 2(c)]
Criminal contempt is defined in Section 2(c) as the publication of any matter that scandalises or undermines the court’s authority, or that interferes or prejudices any judicial proceedings, or interferes or obstructs the administration of justice in any way. Furthermore, an act or publication will be considered contempt if it has the potential to jeopardise the court’s authority or interfere with judicial processes or the administration of justice.
Because no law in India defines what constitutes scandalising the court, the phrase “scandalises the authority of the court” is heavily reliant on the judge’s discretion. Citizens have been charged with criminal contempt for criticising judges on the Supreme Court and the High Court.
“Wherever there is discretion there is room for arbitrariness” – dicey
The Prashant Bhushan case
The supreme court found prominent advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt in Re: Prashant Bhushan & Anr. The two tweets by the top lawyers were found to be in contempt of court because they jeopardise the court’s authority.
The court cited the decision in Brahma Prakash Sharma and others vs. The State of Uttar Pradesh (1953), which held that scandalising and court occurs when an individual judge or the court as a whole is attacked with or without reference to specific cases, casting unwarranted and defamatory aspersions on the judges’ character. According to the court, this is required because it instils distrust in the public’s thinking and “impairs people’s confidence in the courts, each of which is of paramount importance.”
It also cited the decision in C.K. Daphtary & Ors V. O.P. Gupta & Ors (1971), which held that any publication intended to obstruct the due process of justice or the administration of the law constituted contempt of court. It is argued that a slanderous attack on a judge, whether for a judgement or past conduct, has the unavoidable effect of weakening public trust in the judiciary in our country, and that if public faith in the judiciary is undermined, the administration of justice will inevitably suffer.
The tweet was deemed contemptuous by the court because it assailed the Chief Justice of India in his function as Chief Justice of India, rather than as an individual. The court responded that the tweet had the potential to impair public faith in the judiciary, which, according to the court, affects the administration of justice’s dignity and authority.
It goes on to say that an attack on the supreme court undermines not only regular litigation but also the faith of other judges in the country’s highest court. An attempt to disrupt the foundations of constitutional democracy, namely the judiciary, must be “met with an iron hand,” according to the court. The tweets, according to the court, have the effect of undermining the foundations of Indian democracy.
Civil contempt is important because wilful disobedient litigants who disobey the court’s orders cannot be excused; otherwise, the administration of justice and public trust in the judiciary would suffer. The rule of law is predicated on citizens’ trust, faith, and confidence in the court. Experts, on the other hand, believe that criminal contempt should be simplified, if not repealed altogether.
This is because, under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it has the potential to be utilised to restrict freedom of speech and expression. According to Arun Shourie and Adv. Prashant Bhushan, criminal contempt for “scandalising the authority of the court” breaches freedom of speech and is obviously arbitrary.
They claim that the phrase is imprecise enough to include reasonable criticism within its scope, therefore breaking the doctrine of overbreadth. It is rooted in colonial beliefs and objects, according to them, and has no place in a democracy.
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