Contempt of Court

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If truth is God then obviously the Courts are the temples where justice is served. The Courts give their decision without any pride or prejudice and are neutral to everyone. Moreover, decisions are made as per the written law of the country; therefore, all the judicial decisions delivered by the Court must be respected. As the Jurists Lady Judge Langa said, “It must be obeyed as ordered unless set aside or varied.” Violation of the Court order lead to contempt of court due to which contempt law was introduced. The term ‘Contempt of Court’ is defined as an offence of being disrespectful or disobedient to a court of law and its officers; being impertinent and impolite in the courtroom towards the legal authorities, and being impudent towards court orders may lead to contempt of court proceedings. The judge has the right to impose sanctions on the contemnor such as imprisonment for a certain time period or a fine, in case he is found guilty of contempt of court. In this context, the Contempt of Court Act of 1971 was enacted that “define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempts of courts and to regulate their procedure in relation thereto.” The primary purpose of the contempt law is to uphold the dignity of the judiciary as well as help the judges to decide cases without favor, ill will, fear, or affection. 

Contempt of Court and Indian Constitution

Article 129: As per this Article, the Supreme Court is provided the power to punish for contempt of itself. It states that “Supreme Court to be a ‘court of record’ The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.”

Article 142(2): Grants power to the Supreme Court of India to investigate as well as punish any individual for its contempt, subject to any other law. It states that “Subject to the provisions of any law made in this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the territory of India, have all and every power to make any order for the purpose of securing the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself.”

Article 215: Power is granted to all the High Courts of India to punish for contempt of itself. It states that “High Courts to be ‘courts of record’ Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.”

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Following are the certain essentials of Contempt of court:

  • There must be a valid court order and the same should be in the knowledge of the respondent. 
  • The action of contempt should clearly disregard the order of the court.
  • In the case of criminal contempt, the publication is the most important thing that can be either written or spoken or by signs or by visible representation or by words. 
  • In the case of civil contempt, disobedience should be done willfully to any court proceedings, its judgment, decree, order, etc. 

Types of Contempt of Court in India

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt of court happens when someone disobeys or ignores or fails to follow the court’s order which further results in injury to the rights of the private party. According to Section 2 (b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt is “wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.” In more simple words, civil contempt can be demonstrated as a wrong committed against those who were supposed to gain benefit from the order or decree by the court. In the civil contempt of court, the primary emphasis is on the word ‘wilful’ as mentioned in Section 2 (b) of the Act. This term is defined as an act or omission, done intentionally and voluntarily to disregard or disobey the law. It signifies once deliberate action done with a bad motive or evil intention. If someone is accused of Civil Contempt, there are some defences available which include, lack of knowledge of the order, disobeyed order should be ambiguous or vague, more than one reasonable interpretation should be involved in orders, and the breach or disobedience should not be done wilfully. 

Criminal Contempt

Criminal contempt of court is defined efficiently in Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Court Act of 1971. It states that criminal contempt is the publication of any matter by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or by gesture or doing of any act which includes (i) lowers or tends to lower, scandalize or tends to scandalize the court’s authority (any court) (ii) interfere or tends to interfere, obstructs or tends to obstruct in any manner with the administration of justice or (iii) biasness interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of judicial proceedings (any type of proceeding). Through this, it can be determined that the Court is not only entrusted with the power to protect itself against insult or injury but it also protects the right of the public so that the administration of justice is not obstructed, prejudiced, perverted, or interfered with.


Both the Supreme Court of India and the High Court are bestowed with the power to punish the contemnor for contempt of Court. In the Contempt of Court Act of 1971, Section 12 mainly deals with the punishment for Contempt of Court. As per Section 12 (1) of the Act, a contemnor can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months or a fine which may extend to Rs. 2000 or both. The punishment awarded to the contemnor can be remitted if he/ she makes an apology which is further required to be accepted by the Court. While determining the quantum of punishments, the Courts consider whether the tendered apology is supported by unconditional terms or conditions. If the Court finds that the tendered apology is neither sincere nor substantial then the Court has the power to order immediate custody of the contemnor. Moreover, Section 10 of the Act gives special powers to the High Courts to punish contempt of subordinate courts. 


There are certain cases where contempt is not punishable:

  • Holding a dharna (Protest) in front of the Court. This itself may not amount o contempt but if it disrupts the access to the courts or proceedings in court are hindered, hampered, or disrupted then dharna may amount to contempt. This is because it will obstruct the administration of justice. 
  • It may be considered an exception to contempt to say or publish the truth for the public good.
  • Contempt of Court Act is not applicable to Myaya Panchayats or other village courts.

Remedies against punishment

After the amendment of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, Section 13 was added to it and the amendment Act was known as the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act of 2006. This section highlights that under certain circumstances, contempt of court cannot be punished. Section 13 (a) of the Act states that no Court should be punished for contempt of court unless the contempt is of a nature that substantially interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of justice. Moreover, Section 13 (b) of the Act illustrates that “the court may permit, in any proceeding for contempt of court, justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in public interest and the request for invoking the said defence is bona fide.”

Important Case laws

Facts: The then President of the Bar Council of India, Shri Vinay Chandra Mishra, was accused of abusing the Allahabad High Court judge (Justice SK Keshote). The incident took place during the hearing of a case in which the contemnor appeared on behalf of the parties. It was alleged that the contemnor started shouting during the court proceedings in response to the asked question and threatened the judge to transfer him. The judge; therefore, complained against the contemnor as he insulted the judge in open Court and the case was referred to the top Court for decision.

Supreme Court Held: The Supreme Court ordered that the contemnor was found guilty of criminal contempt of court under Article 142 and Article 129 of the Constitution of India. Also, the bench highlighted the reasons for not accepting the apology of the contemnor as no sincere regret for his disrespectful act was observed by the Court. 

Facts: A souvenir to be published by an association of lawyers “Mehfil” was sent by advocate Kapil Sibal and others that mainly concerns with the falling standards of the legal fraternity. The souvenir was only distributed among the members of the BAR whereas some of the excerpts of the respondent’s souvenir were published in the Times of India newspaper during the elections of the Supreme Court Bar Association. This was further alleged that the souvenir was brought to disrepute to the functioning of the Courts and the administration of justice.

Supreme Court Held: The top Court stated that “There is nothing on the record to show that the souvenir of the Mehfil in which the message was printed was sold to the public.” The bench hearing the case further ordered that “the case was not fit where formal proceedings for contempt should be drawn up”. Thus, the contempt proceedings were dropped.


People with legal grievances knock at the doors of justice for the protection of their rights and interests they are the Mecca of justice, hence they demand a certain degree of respect in terms of their ruling. Intimidation or disobedience of courts would not lead to an effective and efficient judicial system that can deliver unbiased justice. The judiciary is one of the three pillars of the Indian Parliament and is known as the ‘Watchdog of Democracy’. From guiding to interpreting legislation Courts serve the Constitution in many ways. They demand respect as the saviors of the Constitution. The ultimate savior of democracy is an independent judiciary with an effective enforcement mechanism and with power to set offenders on the path of law. Justice delivered but not administered is only as good as justice not given. 

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