Judiciary in India is one of the three pillars of the Indian governance system. The courts are given the task of delivering justice and they also act as the father of the constitution. Therefore, our constitution, to uphold the prestige held by these courts and to make it independent from the other two pillars, empowers high courts and supreme courts to punish any person who attempt to derogate or knock down their authority.
DEFINITION OF CONTEMPT OF COURT
In the most common terms,contempt of court can be defined as any act or behaviour by any person which shows disrespect towards the court of law and its officers.Showing disrespect towards legal authorities or failing to follow the judgements of courts may amount to contempt of court.
There are provisions in Indian constitution which talks about contempt of court. Article 129 speaks about supreme court and Article 215 speaks about High Courts.
Article 129 says, ‘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 says, “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.”
However,the above provisions of Indian constitution does not define the term ‘contempt of court’. Section 2 of ‘Contempt Of Courts Act,1971’ talks about the definitions,
SECTION 2 OF CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT,1971
(a) “contempt of court” means civil contempt or criminal contempt;
(b) “civil contempt” means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court;
(c) “criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act
(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;
(d) “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
HISTORY OF CONTEMPT OF COURTS IN INDIA
The origin and history of contempt of courts in India can be looked back to the colonial period in India. The cases pertaining to the contempt of court was governed by English law and statutes until the first ever statutory law was introduced in 1926 i.e. Contempt of Courts Act,1926. The act provided the jurisdiction to all high courts to punish for contempt of themselves and also for the contempt of the courts subordinate to them.
After independence, courts of contempt act,1926 was repealed and a new act, ‘The Contempt Of Courts Act,1952’ was brought in. But the new act was almost the same as the act of 1926.It did not confer any new rights to the courts for its contempt. However, it made two noticeable changes from the act of 1926,first, it refined the term ‘High Court’ to include in its ambit the courts of judicial commissioner which were not included in the act of 1926 and second, it provided the aforesaid courts the jurisdiction to inquire and try any case related to its contempt and the courts subordinate to it.
Under the light of uncertainty, ambiguity and unsatisfactory and also keeping in mind the constitutional changes in the country, the government introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha on 1 April 1960 to further consolidate and amend the Contempt of Courts Act 1952. The government appointed a special committee under the chairmanship of the then Additional Solicitor General late H.N. Sanyal in 1961 to thoroughly inspect and assess the law relating to contempt of courts and the law related to procedure for contempt proceedings and the punishment to be applied in each particular case of contempt of court. The committee submitted its report in 1963 which defined the powers and limitations of courts in punishing for contempt of court. The recommendations of this committee was later came to be known as Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT 1971
After the aforesaid deliberations and assessment of the aforesaid bill, the parliament passed the bill in 1971 which came to be known as ‘Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971 which repealed and replaced the 1952 act and came into force on 24 December 1971. The act comprises of total 24 sections. The provisions of the act applies to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir except to the extent to which the provisions of this Act relate to contempt of the Supreme Court. The act empowers certain courts the power and jurisdiction to punish individuals for the contempt of itself or that of the courts subordinate to them. It also defines the term ‘Contempt Of Courts’ and extensively defines the procedure to be followed by courts to deal with contempt cases and also puts a limiting check on the powers of courts. Section 22 of the act clearly states that the act is in addition and not in derogation to any other act relating to the contempt of courts. The act also includes provisions relating to the liability of the judges, magistrates and other judicial officers.
The Preamble of the act makes it clear that the act does not seek to protect the dignity of the individual judges but it seeks to protect the dignity of administration of justice and judicial proceedings.
The act was recently amended in 2006 under the title ‘Contempt Of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006 to include the defense of truth in the ambit of section 13 of the original act. Section 13 of the act provides that no court will punish an individual for contempt unless it is satisfied that the act is of such a nature that it substantially interferes with the due course of justice. The amendment further states that the court may permit, in any proceeding for contempt of court, justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest and the request for invoking the said defence is bona fide. This was a good step towards the justice as it provided protection to the individuals who speak truth without any intention to hinder the administration of justice.
As mentioned in the introduction part, Judiciary is one of the three pillars of the Indian governance system and judicial courts and its officers are given the task of protecting and interpreting the constitution and also deliver justice where it is lacking. So constitution also provides security to judiciary and judges so that no individual can derogate or attempt to derogate the prestige and powers held by them and that derogation is known as Contempt Of Court. While Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 continue to put a question mark on the entire act, but it is also to be noted that to uphold the dignity of courts is as important as the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to personal liberty.