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Indian Polity

Contempt of Court

  • 16 Nov 2019
  • 4 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has held former Ranbaxy promoters guilty of contempt for violating its order.

  • The expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.
  • As per the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, contempt refers to the offence of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court.
  • The act divides contempt into civil and criminal contempt.
    • Civil contempt: It is willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court.
    • Criminal contempt: It is any publication which may result in:
      • Scandalising the court by lowering its authority.
      • Interference in the due course of a judicial proceeding.
      • An obstruction in the administration of justice.
  • However, innocent publication and distribution of some matter, fair and reasonable criticism of judicial acts and comment on the administrative side of the judiciary do not amount to contempt of court.

Contempt of Court Act,1971

  • The act defines the power of courts to punish for their contempt and regulates their procedure.
  • It was amended in 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation. Implying that the court must permit justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest.

Punishments for Contempt of Court

  • The supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both.
  • In 1991, the Supreme Court has ruled that it has the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts and tribunals functioning in the entire country.
  • On the other hand, High Courts have been given special powers to punish contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.

Need for Contempt Law

  • The purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the judiciary.
  • Contempt powers help judges to do their duties of deciding cases without fear, favour, affection or ill will.

Constitutional Background

  • Article 129: Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • Article 142(2): Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
  • Article 215: Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Issues with Contempt Law

  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens, while “contempt provisions” curb people’s freedom to speak against the court’s functioning.
  • The law is very subjective which might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily to suppress their criticism by the public.

Source: TH

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