Constitutional validity of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971


Before 1971, there was no definition of contempt of court. But after the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 “contempt of court” was defined for the first time. Even the definition which is given in the Contempt of Courts Act is not a proper definition but is more like a classification or categorization of contempt of court. To define the concept, ‘Contempt of Court’ is actually difficult. What would offend the dignity of court and lower the Court’s prestige is a matter for the Court to determine and it cannot be confined within the four walls of a definition. This was said in the case of State of Bihar v. Shree Kuber Nand Kishore Singh.

Halsbury defines contempt of court as “Any act done or writing published which is calculated to bring a court or 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.

According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court. On the other hand, 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

  • Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
  • 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.

The above definition contained in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 is not exhaustive. It just indicates that the contempt may be civil contempt or criminal contempt.

Constitutional Validity of the Contempt of Court Act

  • Indian Constitution in its seventh schedule provides in List I that the Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to any of the matters or subjects given in list I. [Article 246(1) of the constitution].
  • Parliament and State legislature both have powers to make laws with respect to any of the subject enumerated in List III (concurrent list) of the seventh schedule of the constitution. [Article 246(2) of the Constitution].
  • In the case of conflict between the law made by Parliament and the law made by the State legislature, law made by the State legislature shall to the extent of the repugnancy, be void. [Article 254(1) of the Constitution].
  • However Article 254(2) of the Constitution creates an exception to this general rule. It provides that where a law made by state legislature with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent list containing any provisions repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then the law so made by the State legislature shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State.

However, even in such condition the Parliament can enact any law with respect to the matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the state legislature.

  • The residuary power has been vested in parliament under Article 248 of the Constitution.
  • Entry 77 of List I (union list) and entry 14 of list III (concurrent list) of the seventh schedule of the constitution include the subject, Contempt of court.
  • On the basis of these provisions, the Sanyal Committee has derived a conclusion that the legislature is fully competent to legislate with respect to contempt of Court subject only to the qualification that the legislature cannot take away the power of the Supreme Court or the High Court to punish for the Contempt or vest that power in some other court.
  • Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India are based on the assumption that there should be an effective power an effective power in the Supreme Court and each of the High Courts for dealing with cases of Contempt. The power of Parliament to legislate in relation to the law of contempt of these courts would therefore, have to be exercised in such a way that the purpose of the constitutional provisions is not defeated.
  • The contempt of courts act is considered valid. It is not considered inconsistent within the law of contempt existing at the time of its enactment; this was held in Noordeen Mohammed v. A.K. Gopalan.
  • Not violative of Article 14:- In number of cases issues were raised that whether contempt of court act satisfies the twin test given in Article 14 of the Constitution i.e., the act is just fair and reasonable and not arbitrary, fanciful, or evasive and whether the classification satisfies this test and whether there is a relation (nexus) between the classification and the object to be achieved.
  • As the existing law relating to Contempt of court imposes reasonable restrictions within the meaning of Article 19(2) and therefore, it is not violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guarantee by Article 19(1) (2) of the Constitution.
  • According to clause 10 of the Article 366 the existing law means any law ordinance, order, bye-law, rule or regulation passed or made before the commencement of this constitution by a legislature, authority or person having power to make such a law, ordinance, bye-law, rule or regulation.
  • The contempt of court is violative of Article 21 which provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law as the existing procedure for contempt proceedings have statutory sanction.
  • Section 10 of the Contempt Act, 1971, makes it clear that every High Court shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction powers and authority in accordance with the same procedure and practice in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it as it has and exercise in respect of contempt of itself, beside this article 255 of the Constitution of India makes provision for its continuity.
  • Hence, on the above grounds, it can be concluded that the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 is not violative of any provision of the Constitution and it is constitutionally valid.

Aishwarya Says:

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