From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Contempt of Court
Mains level : Read the attached story
The CJI pointed to how courts had to deal with the new problem of “contempt petitions” triggered by the “deliberate inaction” of governments that chose to ignore judgments and orders.
What did the CJI say?
- The contempt petitions are a new category of burden on the courts, which is a direct result of the defiance by the governments.
- Such actions show sheer defiance of governments towards judicial pronouncements.
- There is visible inclination to pass off the responsibility of decision-making to courts.
- The legislature’s work show ambiguity, lack of foresight and public consultation before making laws have led to docket explosion.
What is Contempt of the Court?
- Contempt of court is the offense 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.
- There are broadly two categories of contempt: being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom, or wilfully failing to obey a court order.
How did the concept came into being?
- The concept of contempt of court is several centuries old.
- In England, it is a common law principle that seeks to protect the judicial power of the king, initially exercised by him, and later by a panel of judges who acted in his name.
- Violation of the judges’ orders was considered an affront to the king himself.
- Over time, any kind of disobedience to judges, or obstruction of the implementation of their directives, or comments and actions that showed disrespect towards them came to be punishable.
What is the statutory basis for contempt of court?
- There were pre-Independence laws of contempt in India. Besides the early High Courts, the courts of some princely states also had such laws.
- When the Constitution was adopted, contempt of court was made one of the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.
- Separately, Article 129 of the Constitution conferred on the Supreme Court the power to punish contempt of itself.
- Article 215 conferred a corresponding power on the High Courts.
- The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gives statutory backing to the idea.
What are the kinds of contempt of court?
The law codifying contempt classifies it as civil and criminal.
- Civil contempt is fairly simple. It is committed when someone wilfully disobeys a court order or wilfully breaches an undertaking given to the court.
- However, Criminal contempt is more complex.
- It consists of three forms: (a) words, written or spoken, signs and actions that “scandalise” or “tend to scandalise” or “lower” or “tends to lower” the authority of any court (b) prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding and (c) interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice.
- The rationale for this provision is that courts must be protected from tendentious attacks that lower its authority, defame its public image and make the public lose faith in its impartiality.
- The punishment for contempt of court is simple imprisonment for a term up to six months and/or a fine of up to ₹. 2,000.
What does not account to contempt?
- Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court.
- Nor is any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.
Is truth a defence against a contempt charge?
- For many years, the truth was seldom considered a defence against a charge of contempt.
- There was an impression that the judiciary tended to hide any misconduct among its individual members in the name of protecting the image of the institution.
- The Act was amended in 2006 to introduce truth as a valid defence if it was in the public interest and was invoked in a bonafide.