Contempt Of Court:  Disobedience to Court and Justice

Anything that restricts or impairs the freedom of judicial proceedings must inevitably impede the administration of law and interfere with the due course of justice. It is unquestionably contempt of court.

In India, Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act of 1971 defines contempt of court as civil or criminal contempt.

But what is Contempt of Court?

Simply defined, contempt of court is any disrespectful conduct to the authority, dignity, or justice. The act of committing contempt is known as “contemn,” and the offender is known as a “contemnor.” Contemnors may face a fine or imprisonment.


Contempt of court has a long history in India, dating back to the British Raj. The colonial government bestowed the power to punish contemnors for contempt of court on “courts of record,” which were essentially courts where the proceedings got recorded, usually high courts.

  • The Contempt of Court Act, 1926 was a significant piece of legislation regarding contempt of court during the Raj. This statute explicitly authorised the high courts to punish individuals for contempt of courts subordinate to them.
  • Following the enactment of this Act in British India, several other states, including Mysore, Hyderabad, Madhya Pradesh, Pepsu, Rajasthan, Travancore, Cochin, and Sarusjatra, enacted it. The Contempt of Court Act of 1952 supersedes the Act of 1926.
  • When India gained independence from the British, the Indian Constitution recognised the Supreme Court’s and the various high courts’ rights to punish people or lower courts for contempt.
  • Parliament passed The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 in December 1971 and it took effect on December 24, 1971.
  • It extended to the whole country of India, except for Jammu & Kashmir.
  • The primary purpose of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 is to safeguard ongoing legal proceedings. A rule prevents the media from publishing information that could jeopardise current legal proceedings, particularly jury trials.
  • On May 8, 2003, the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2003, was introduced in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for consideration.
  • The Honrable Committee discussed the Contempts of court Bill during its meeting on September 2, 2003. However, the Bill, 2003, expired with the dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha. It proposed to reintroduce the Bill as mentioned earlier with drafting changes.
  • The subsequent amendment was made in 2006 called- the Contempt of Courts Act (Amendment), 2006.
  • Contempt is not penalised in certain circumstances.- Notwithstanding anything contained in any already in effect law:
  • This Act prohibits courts from punishing someone for contempt of court unless they get convinced that their conduct interferes or tends to interfere materially with the fair administration of justice.
  • If the court believes it is in the public interest and the request to invoke the justification by truth defence is genuine, it may allow it as a valid defence in a contempt case.
  • Another amendment, this Act may be called the Contempt of Court Act 2012, got passed. Bill to define and limit the powers of courts in punishing contempt of courts and for related purposes by an Act of Parliament.


Section 1– Short title and extent.

Section 2– Definitions.

Section 3– Innocent publication and distribution of matter, not contempt.

Section 4– Fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings, not contempt.

Section 5– Fair criticism of judicial acts, not contempt.

Section 6– Complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts when not in contempt.

Section 7– Publication of information relating to proceedings in chambers or cameras, not contempt except in some instances.

Section 8– Other defences not affected.

Section 9– Act not to imply enlargement of the scope of contempt.

Section 10– Power of the High Court to punish contempt of subordinate courts.

Section 11– Power of the High Court to try offences committed or offenders found outside the jurisdiction.

Section 12– Punishment for contempt of court.

Section 13– Contempts are not punishable in some instances.

Section 14– Procedure where contempt is in the face of the Supreme Court or a High Court.

Section 15– Cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases.

Section 16– Contempt by a judge, magistrate or other person acting judicially.

Section 17– Procedure after cognisance

Section 18– Hearing of cases of criminal contempt to be by Benches.

Section 19– Appeals.

Section 20– Limitation for actions for contempt.

Section 21– Act not to apply to Nyaya Panchayats or other village courts.

Section 22– Act to be in addition to other laws relating to contempt and not in derogation.

Section 23– Power of the Supreme Court and High Courts to make rules.

Section 24– Repeal.


Some contempt of court examples:

  • In 1978, two newspaper editors from the Indian Express and Times of India got charged with contempt for publishing articles critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, in which the Supreme Court denied to protect the right to habeas corpus during the Emergency.
  • In 1997, the Bombay High Court found Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray guilty of contempt of court after he accused a corruption’s judge in a public speech. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction on appeal.
  • M. V. Jayarajan, the head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was convicted of contempt of court in 2010 after criticising a Kerala High Court order prohibiting meetings in specific public venues.

    The Kerala High Court sentenced him to six months in jail, reduced to four months when he appealed with the Supreme Court.

  • In 2001, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to Madhu Trehan’s editor and journalist and four other people connected to an article published in the (now-defunct) magazine Wah India.

    The post in question had asked experienced counsel in Delhi to rank Delhi High Court justices anonymously on various criteria, including their perceived honesty. The Delhi High Court ruled that they were guilty of contempt but accepted their apology and not punished them.

  • In 2003, the Karnataka High Court instituted contempt proceedings against 56 individuals from 14 periodicals, including publishers, editors, and journalists.

    These outlets have reported on an alleged sex scandal in Mysore, which implicated several High Court judges. The judges got absolved of misconduct after an investigation, and the contempt charges subsequently got suspended.


The two types of contempt of court in India include:

Civil Contempt

Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines Civil contempt as willful disobedience to any judgement, direction, order, decree, writ, or other processes of a court, or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Certain elements must be present to establish various types of contempt of court. Civil contempt requires the following elements:

  • the creation of a legally binding court order
  • respondent’s knowledge of the order
  • the respondent’s ability to provide compliance
  • order disobedience on purpose

Criminal Contempt

The 1971 Contempt of Courts Act’s Section 2(c) of 1971 defines criminal contempt as the publication (be it words, spoken or written, or in signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the performance of any other act whatsoever which:

  • Scandalises or threatens to scandalise any court, or undermines or threatens to undermine the authority of any court, or
  • Prejudices interfere with or threaten to interfere with the proper conduct of any judicial proceeding, or
  • Interferes or tends to interfere with the administration of justice in any other way or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any other way.

ARTICLE 129 of Contempt of Court Act

To derive contempt power, the Court relied on a constitutional provision. Article 129 of the Indian Constitution of 1950 established the Supreme Court as a “court of record” and gave it the authority to penalise for contempt of court.

Meaning of Court of Record

  • Wharton’s Law Lexicon defines Court of Record as:

    “Courts are either of record where their acts and judicial proceedings are enrolled for a perpetual memorial and testimony, and they have power to fine and imprison, or not of record being courts of inferior dignity, and in a less proper sense the King’s Courts-and these are not entrusted by law with any power to fine or imprison the subject of the realm, unless by the express provision of some Act of Parliament”.

  • The term “Court of Record” is defined in Jowitt’s Dictionary of English Law as:

    “a court whereof the acts and judicial proceedings are enrolled for a perpetual memorial and testimony, and which has power to fine and imprison for contempt of its authority.”

  • Halsbury’s Law of England states that:

    “…. Another manner of division is into courts of record and courts not of record. Certain courts are expressly declared by statute to be courts of record.

    In the case of courts not expressly declared to be courts of record, the answer to the question whether a court is a court of record seems to depend in general upon whether it has power to fine or imprison, by statute or otherwise, for contempt of itself or other substantive offences; if it has such power, it seems that it is a court of record. The proceedings of a court of record preserved in its archives are called records and are conclusive evidence of that which is recorded therein”.

Contempt of court includes not only wilful contempt or disobedience of the court’s orders but also any action that tends to undermine the court’s authority and the administration of the law or that defeats, impairs, or prejudices the rights of witnesses or parties to pending litigation.

Contempts got categorized as direct or consequential under common law.

Direct contempt:

It gets defined as words spoken or acts performed in the presence of the court that tend to defeat or obstruct the justice’s administration;

Consequential Contempt:

Consequential, indirect, or constructive contempt is performed at a distance and not in the court’s presence with a similar tendency.


It sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Judges may have considerable discretion in classifying particulate conduct based on a variety of considerations:


It is considered civil contempt when a contempt charge seeks to coerce or force someone to obey a court order. Holding someone in criminal contempt, on the other hand, seeks to punish the contemnor for dishonouring the authority or dignity of the court.

This contrast may also apply to monetary fines and/or penalties. It is civil if the penalty or fine entails the intention to compensate another party.

It is criminal if it gets intended to punish the person who committed the contemptuous act.


A criminal contempt punishment is usually final, and it cannot get lifted simply by correcting or showing a promise not to repeat the disdainful act. Civil contempt, on the other hand, maybe conditional.

On complying with the court order, the charges and punishment get dropped in many cases.

For example, if a person gets detained for failing to produce evidence while in their custody, they may be released as soon as they produce it. An apology to the judge may even suffice in some cases.

The burden of proof required:

Civil contempt can be proven using the standard of clear and convincing evidence. It means that the evidence presented is very likely to prove the commitment of the contempt.

On the other hand, criminal contempt requires a higher standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.


When a person charged with civil contempt is entirely unable to comply with the court order, they may invoke the “impossibility defence.” This defence does not apply in criminal contempt because the latter involves an overt act rather than a failure to act.

Due process rights:

Ass opposed to civil contempt, criminal contempt is a criminal offence, and courts try to resolve it as a criminal proceeding.

As a result, someone charged with criminal contempt gets entitled to the constitutional due process protections afforded to people accused of a crime.

The rights incorporate the innocence presumption until proven guilty, the right to a jury trial, the right to confront one’s accuser, and the right to counsel.


The High Court and Supreme Court get the authority to punish for contempt of court.

Some contempt of court punishments are:

  • The 1971 Contempt of Court Act’s Section 12, provides imprisonment for up to six months, a penalty of up to two thousand rupees, or both.
  • Suppose the court determines that a fine will not achieve the ends of justice in a civil case and that an imprisonment sentence is required. In such cases, in place of sending him to simple imprisonment, it may direct for the detention in civil prison for not more than six months.
  • An accused may also get discharged, or the punishment imposed reduced if he or she apologises to the court’s satisfaction. An apology should not get rejected simply because it is qualified or conditional if the accused makes it genuine.


Lack of Knowledge of the Request:

An individual cannot get held liable for contempt of court if he has no information about the request issued by the court or claims to be unaware of the request.

The courts impose a responsibility on the productive party to serve the request handed to the Individual by post, by and by, or through the assured duplicate. The contemner can easily claim that the confirmed duplicate of the request did not serve him formally.

The noncompliance or rupture should not be:

If someone is arguing under this protection, he or she might claim the failure to do the demonstration repeatedly, that it was a simple mistake, or that it is beyond their capacity to manage. However, your argument must be fruitful if it appears to be reasonable; else, your statement can get disposed of.

The resisted request should be ambiguous or uncertain:

If the court’s order is unclear or dubious, or if the order isn’t explicit or complete in and of itself, an individual may face the barrier of contempt if he speaks out against it.


Innocent publication and distribution of matter:

A person is not guilty of contempt of court if he or she publishes, whether by words, spoken or written or by signs or visible representations.


any matter that interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in connection with a criminal proceeding pending at the time of publication if he lacked judicial authority at the time of publication.

Fair and accurate report of judicial proceeding, not contempt:

A person shall not get convicted of contempt of court for publishing a fair and truthful account of a judicial procedure or any state thereof, subject to the restrictions of Section 7.

Fair criticism of judicial act, not contempt:

Publishing a fair comment on the merits of any case that has been heard and decided shall not constitute contempt of court for the person who publishes it.

Bonafide Complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts:

Individuals aren’t in trouble for saying things they don’t mean when speaking in good faith about the presiding officer or subordinate court.

(a) Any other inferior court or

(b) The Supreme Court, to which it is subordinate.



  • Prashant Bhushan, a well-known advocate and activist, was found guilty of contempt of court on August 14 for two tweets against current Chief Justice SA Bode and the previous four CJIs.

    The Supreme Court discovered were based on twisted facts and added up to a vulgar and noxious assault on the Apex Court and destabilised the legal executive’s establishment.

  • He was fined 1Re. for such contempt, and if the fine is not paid by September 15, Bhushan faces three months in prison, and a three-year practice ban, according to the judgement of a bench led by Justice Arun Mishra.
  • While reading the relevant portion of the judgement on the severity of imprisonment, Justice Arun Mishra remarked that Bhushan failed to express regret to the Attorney General’s counsel.
  • The court had given Bhushan three chances to apologise before imposing the sentence. Still, through his claim and legal counsels, Bhushan stated that he stood by his tweets and did not demand any tolerance, generosity, or unselfishness from the court.
  • Bhushan claimed that any categorical expression of regret at this point would amount to “hatred of his still, little voice” since they relied on his “bonafide conviction.”

    Instead, he argued that the tweets should get viewed as “productive analysis” that will allow the court to “capture any float away from its long-standing function as a watchman of the Constitution and caretaker of people groups’ privileges.”.

  • Justice Arun Mishra enquired as to why Bhushan couldn’t apologise.

    Attorney General KK Venugopal urged the Supreme Court not to dismiss Bhushan’s case, saying the court should close the case after the liable request and should not dismiss or sentence him in light of his public service and accomplishments in the field of Public Interest Litigation.

    And AG mentioned the well-known interview in which four sitting adjudicators declared: “Government by majority rule is doomed.” Just instruct him not to bring it up again,” AG suggested as a simple solution to the problem.

  • As a result of reading Bhushan’s tweets and his two courtroom explanations, Justice Mishra concluded that Bhushan should understand his error and express his regret in any event. AG reiterated, ” “I’m here to represent the Bar. Empathise with the other person. “Send him a letter of warning and get him to leave.
  • Prashant Bhushan tweeted, “CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice.”
  • The following tweet, dated June 27, stated:

    “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.”

  • The Supreme Court (SC) stated that the tweets brought the organisation of equity into offence and authority of the Supreme Court’s establishment in general and the Chief Justice of India’s office precisely, according to the general population on the loose.
  • Even though various appointed authorities had previously called out Bhushan for his web-based media posts, remarks, and projecting slander on judges when the standard was ‘You can criticise a judgement, but you cannot criticise a judge,’ this is the first time he has been found guilty of any crime.

    When he accused the CJI of not wearing a helmet while riding a bike, he didn’t notice that the bike was on a stand. That’s the only thing he regrets, he said.

  • When approached to clarify his tweets, Bhushan refused to apologise and said he stood by his tweets, stating that if it gets interpreted as disdain and procedures get followed, it will suffocate free discourse and establish an illogical limitation on Article 19, which is the right to freedom of speech and expression.


Contempt of court is a general term that refers to behaviour that disrespects or insults the authority or dignity of the court.

Often, contempt manifests itself in actions deemed detrimental to the court’s ability to administer justice. Judges usually have a lot of leeway in deciding who to hold in contempt and what kind of contempt to hold.

Criminal contempt and civil contempt are the two types of court contempt.

Participants in a proceeding, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, people in or around a proceeding, and court officers or staff can all get found to be in contempt. Civil contempt frequently involves someone failing to obey a court order.

Judges use civil contempt sanctions to compel such a person to comply with a court order that the person has violated. On the other hand, criminal contempt charges are punitive, meaning they get intended to deter future acts of contempt by punishing the offender regardless of what happens in the core proceeding.


Which court can punish for contempt?

The Supreme Court has constitutional powers to punish for contempt under Article 129, read with Article 142 (2) of the Indian Constitution. The High Courts have similar powers under Article 215 of the Constitution.

Who can file Contempt of Court?

Contempt proceedings can be commenced by either submitting an application or by the court acting on its initiative. Contempt proceedings must get commenced within one year of the day the alleged contempt got committed in both circumstances.

What is the procedure involved in contempt of court in India?

The processes outlined in the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, must be followed, as stated in Indian Constitution’;s Articles 129 and 215. Individuals can use the following options to combat disdain. He may present the material to the court and urge that it take action.

What was the report of the contempt of the Court Committee?

The committee’s report enacted as the Contempt of Court Act of 1971 changed the enactment process and application from the Contempt of Court Acts of 1926 and 1952.

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