Discuss the concept of Contempt of Court. Explain in detail its different forms and also the rationale behind the provision. 10 marks

Mentor’s comment-

  • Start with the case – Contempt proceedings have been initiated by the Supreme Court of India, on its own motion, against advocate-activist Prashant Bhushan.
  • In the body explain the concept. Discuss the origin of the concept, its constitutionality/ statutory basis, its different kinds.
  • Conclude by asserting the rationale behind the provision.

Contempt of court, often referred to simply as “contempt”, is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behaviour that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court. A similar attitude towards a legislative body is termed contempt of Parliament.
The Supreme Court of India suo motu registered a criminal case of contempt against lawyer Prashant Bhushan, recently. The court registered the proceedings after a petition was moved citing two tweets Bhushan had published over the last two months. In the tweets, the
lawyer had commented on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and about the general functioning of the court under the last four chief justices. The court said it found the tweets prima facie contempt.

Contempt of court can be of two kinds:
● Civil, that is the wilful disobedience of a court order or judgment or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
● Criminal, that is written or spoken words or any act that scandalises the court or lowers its authority or prejudices or interferes with the due course of a judicial proceeding or interferes/obstructs the administration of justice.

Relevant provisions:
● Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
● Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempts of its subordinate courts.
● The Constitution also includes contempt of court as a reasonable restriction to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, along with elements like public order and defamation.

Rationale behind the provision:
● To ensure that the court’s orders are implemented.
● To sustain the independent nature of the judiciary itself.
● While the judiciary issues orders, they are implemented by the government or private parties. If the courts are unable to enforce their orders, then the rule of law itself will come to grinding halt.

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.

Measures needed:
● Besides needing to revisit the need for a law on criminal contempt, even the test for contempt needs to be evaluated. If such a test ought to exist at all, it should be whether the contemptuous remarks in question actually obstruct the Court from functioning.

● It should not be allowed to be used as a means to prevent any and all
criticism of an institution.

A law for criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with our democratic system which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right. An excessively loose use of the test of ‘loss of public confidence’, combined with a liberal exercise of suo motu powers, can be dangerous, for it can amount to the Court signalling that it will not suffer any kind of critical commentary about the institution at all, regardless of how evidently problematic its actions may be. In this manner, the judiciary could find itself at an uncanny parallel with the executive, in using laws for chilling effect.

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Srishti singh
Srishti singh
1 year ago

sir kindly review!

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Arun Vashisht
Arun Vashisht
1 year ago