Anything that inhibits or impairs the right to limit judicial proceedings would inevitably have the effect of hindering the administration of the law and of interfering with the proper conduct of the judiciary. It obviously amounts to contempt of court.
In the case of India, contempt of court is classified as civil contempt or criminal contempt under Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, and it is generally considered that the current law on disregard of courts is somewhat vague, undefined and unsatisfactory. Two important fundamental rights of citizens, namely the right to personal freedom and the right to freedom of expression, are affected by the jurisdiction to punish them for contempt. It was therefore, considered prudent to have a special committee scrutinize the entire law on the subject.
A committee was set up in 1961 under the chairmanship of the late H N Sanyal, then an additional solicitor general, in search of this. The committee made a comprehensive examination of the law and problems relating to contempt of court in the light of the position obtaining in our own country and various foreign countries. The recommendations, which the committee made, took note of the importance given to freedom of speech in the Constitution and of the need for safeguarding the status and dignity of courts and interests of administration of justice.
The recommendations of the committee have been generally accepted by the government after considering the view expressed on those recommendations by the state governments, union territory administrations, the Supreme Court, the high courts and the judicial commissioners.
A case of contempt is C.K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta the respondent published and circulated a booklet in public purporting to ascribe bias and dishonesty to Justice Shah while acting in his judicial capacity. Mr C.K. Daphtary, along with others, filed a petition alleging that the booklet has scandalised the judges who participated in the decision and brought into contempt the authority of the highest court of the land and thus weakened the confidence of the people in it. In determining the extent of the disrespect of the court, the Supreme Court established that the test in each case was whether the disclosure at issue was merely a defamatory assault on the judge or whether it would interfere with the due course of justice or with the proper administration of the law by the court.
For the concept of Contempt of Court, the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 was passed which dealt with such a concept. 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 contempt of its subordinate courts. Power to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215 is not subject to Article 19(1)(a).
The elements generally needed to establish a contempt are:
1. the making of a valid court order,
2. knowledge of the order by respondent,
3. ability of the respondent to render compliance, and
4. wilful disobedience of the order.
According to Lord Hardwick, there is a three-fold classification of Contempt:
1. Scandalizing the court itself.
2. Abusing parties who are concerned in the cause, in the presence of court.
3. Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.
However, in India contempt of court is of two types:
- Civil Contempt
Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as 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.
2. Criminal Contempt
Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined 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.
(a) ‘High Court’ means the high court for a state or a union territory and includes the court of the judicial commissioner in any union territory.
There can be no doubt that the purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of law courts and their image in the minds of the public is no way whittled down. If by contumacious words or writings the common man is led to lose his respect for the judge acting in the discharge of his judicial duties, then the confidence reposed in the courts is rudely shaken and the offender needs to be punished. In essence of law of contempt is the protector of the seat of justice more than the person sitting of the judge sitting in that seat.
A third party to the proceeding may be guilty of contempt of court if they have a part to play in the offence. In LED Builders Pty Ltd v Eagles Homes Pty Ltd Lindgren J stated:
“It is not necessary to show that a person who has aided and abetted a contempt of court was served with the order breached. It is necessary to show only that the person sought to be made liable knew of the order.”
The Limitation period for actions of contempt has been discussed under Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 and is a period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.
Author – Vedika Ghai (Intern of Prerna Foundation)