Contempt of Court is any conduct that disrespect or disregard for interfering with or prejudice parties or with their witnesses during the litigation before the respective authority and administration of law. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 governs the contempt law in India.
The act empowers the Supreme Court and High Court to punish acts of contempt. The Supreme Court and High Courts being courts of record have the constitutional validity to punish for contempt of Court and the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, according to the jurisdiction. Contempt of Court can be understood as an offence of defying the court authority by disobeying the instructions laid by the court. The Act defines civil contempt under section 2(a) as contempt of court means civil contempt or criminal contempt. The two types of contempt are different in character and very difficult to differentiate.
Section 2(b) of the 1971 Act not only encompasses willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order etc. of a court, it also takes in its fold a willful breach of an undertaking given to a court of law. The civil contempt is wrong of private nature. It injures the interests of the party, entitled to get benefit from the disobeyed order, whereas criminal contempt is an offence against the society where the contemner undermines the authority of the Court by his words or actions.
Section 2 (c) defines the ‘criminal contempt' as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act, whatsoever which;
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
Also, Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the court to take action against the contempt. Article 129 empowers the Supreme Court whereas Article 215 empowers High Courts. Whereas, Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 has given them special powers to the respective High Courts to punish contempt of subordinate courts.
Article 129, of the Constitution of India, states that 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 215, of the Constitution of India, states that 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.
The procedures laid as per the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 has to be followed, as mentioned in Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India. An individual can recourse to the following options against the contempt.
1. He may place the information before the Court and request the Court to take action.
2. He may put the information before the Attorney General and request him to take appropriate action.
The contemnor alleged is entitled to get a notice about the same an opportunity of being heard, before considering him guilty of contempt and passing an order.
- Supreme Court and High Court are bestowed with the power to punish the contemnor for the contempt of the Court.
- As per Section 12 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971, the punishment for the contempt of court can be the simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both.
- However, in civil cases, if the Court considers that a penalty is not meeting the ends of justice and that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary then the court shall instead of sentencing him to simple imprisonment, direct that he be detained in civil prison for such period not exceeding six months as it may think fit.
The punishment awarded to an accused may be discharged on apology being made by the accused to the Court's satisfaction. An excuse cannot be rejected on the grounds if accused makes it bonafide.
Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines the limitation period within which the actions have to be taken against the contempt. It specifies that the limitation period is of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.