Author : Sithi Fathima S.A.M.T

College : School of Excellence in Law, The Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University , Chennai


The Contempt of Court, often referred to simply as "CONTEMPT", is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards the Court of Law and its officers in the form of behavior that defies the authority, justice and dignity of the Court .Civil Contempt is fairly simple when comparing to the Criminal Contempt which is more complex than the former. The main reason for contempt of Court concept is to protect the machinery of Justice and the interest of the public. It is also to uphold the dignity of the Judiciary and maintain the authority of Law. But the object of contempt proceedings is not to protect judges personally from any criticism. In this paper , we shall discuss about various aspects of the concept of contempt of Court.


Contempt of Court Act,1971

Indian Constitution

Supreme Court

High Court


The term 'Contempt of court is a generic term descriptive of conduct in relation to particular proceedings in a court of law which tends to undermine that system or to inhibit citizens from availing themselves of it for the settlement of their disputes. This definition was given by LORD DIPLOCK in the judgment of Attorney -General V.Times newspapers ltd[1]. It is a concept that helps the judicial institutions from unwanted criticisms and motivated attacks.


The contempt of court regards that the justice should be administered fairly and it also punishes the one who aims to hurt the dignity or authority of the judiciary. This law has its origin from the Medieval Ages when the royal powers of the monarchy was believed to be appointed by god and everyone was bound to obey him to whatever he says. This is the Divine Law Theory. This power of accountability clearly depicts the same accountability the Supreme Court possesses nowadays under Article129 and Article 142 of the Indian Constitution against its contempt. In the English Medieval Ages, the Judiciary was considered as an important tool of the monarch . At that time these judges and legislatures were representatives of the divine rule. Their functions are to legitimize the functions of these monarchs. The king was the superior head of justice and this power has been given to the judicial system and if anyone or the king himself disrespect or question the courts it became a challenge to the superiority of the king and his wisdom. So, this can be seen as the source of the law that transformed in the society that upheld the dignity of the King and the monarch.


History of Contempt of Court in India can be traced back to the pre-independence period. The first instance for the punishment of the Contempt by the Indian High Courts was first recognized by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It said that the High Courts have the same power as the Supreme Court of England in this matter.

Sanyal committee report deals with the historical aspect of the law of contempt in our country. This committee has been responsible for starting the amendment process. Philosopher Kautilya, in his book Arthashastra has written about the governance at that time .He wrote, "Any person who exposes the king or insult his council or make any type of bad attempt on the kings then the tongue of that person should cut off ". He also added "When a judge threatens, bully or make silence to any of the disputants in the court then he should be punished".


The Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 was the first statute for Law of Contempt in India. The contempt of court act 1972 repealed the old existing Act of 1952 of contempt of court.

Section 2(a) of this Act divides contempt of court as 'civil contempt' and 'criminal contempt'.

According to the Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the civil contempt means the willful disobedience to any judgment , decree, direction , order , writ or any other process of the court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

In Bijay Kumar Mahanty V. Jadu Alias Ram Chandra Sahoo[2] , when a police officer disobeyed the bail order and didn’t release the arrested person in spite of the bail order being produced before him was held liable for Civil Contempt.

According to the Section 2 (c) of the Act, the Criminal Contempt includes any act or publication which : (i) ‘scandalizes’ the court, or (ii) prejudices any judicial proceeding, or (iii) interferes with the administration of justice in any other manner.

Section 12 of this Act deals with the punishment for Contempt. High court and the Supreme Court have been given the power to punish the people for the contempt of court.

Two articles of the Indian Constitution talks about the Contempt of Court of our country . They are

Article 129 : says that the supreme court shall be the 'court of record' and it has all the powers of such courts including the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Article 142(2): says that when any law is made by the parliament on the provisions mentioned in clause 1 of this Article, the Supreme Court has all the power to make an order for securing any person's attendance, production of any documents or has the power to give punishment to anyone for its contempt.



There was no conviction for the offence of scandalizing the court from the common law in England since 1993. The origin of contempt by scandalizing the court can be traced back to 1765. First case to deal with this context was the Almon’s case. Around a hundred of years later the above mentioned case ,Lord Morris in McLeod v. St.Aubyn[3] made a statement that for contempt by scandalizing has become outdated and in place of that the court should leave on the public opinions if the attacks of contempt that are derogatory or scandalous to the judiciary or not.


This country has considered the offence of contempt by scandalizing to be extreme. Every criticism against the judiciary undermines the authority of the court of law. Right to freely comment or criticise the action of a judicial institution is of primary importance to the public and also the American idea of Democracy. For abolishing the offence of contempt by scandalizing, the USA consultation paper relied on the landmark decision in case, Bridges v. California[4] . This offence has been considered unconstitutional in the United States of America.


1) Justice Karnan v. Supreme Court of India[5]: Justice Karnan was the first sitting High court judge to be jailed for six months on the accusation of Contempt of Court . In February 2017, the proceedings were initiated against him after he accused twenty judges of the higher Judiciary of corruption.

2) Re : Arundhati Roy[6] : In this case, the supreme court observed that the fair criticism on the conduct of a judge or the institution of judiciary and its function may not amount to contempt if it is made in good faith and in the public interest.

3) Prasanth Bhushan : Recently on August 14, the Supreme Court held Prasanth Bhushan guilty for Contempt of Court over his two tweets criticizing the Judiciary and imposed Rs. 1 as the penalty.


The main purpose of the Contempt Act should be to judge fairly without any disturbances and through this it creates a trust on the citizens. This power vested on the judiciary should be used wisely and promptly. This Act mainly upholds the dignity of the Apex Court and the judicial institutions all over the country. But this should not be used as a tool for prevent criticisms as it is a part and parcel of the Democratic form of Government. Recently Actor Surya has put forward his view about the suicides by the young students in the State. He criticized the Court for giving the judgements through video conferencing but wants the students to appear in person for competitive exams. Justice S M Subramaniam wrote to the Chief Justice of Madras High Court seeking contempt proceedings against his statement.But People showed their contentions for the contempt proceedings through #TNSTANDWITHSURYA in twitter. I conclude this paper by stating that the Contempt of Court should not be used merely with any vendetta or malicious intentions of the judges.

[1] [1973] 3 All ER 54. [2] Bijay Kumar Mahanty v. Jadu @ Ram Chandra Sahoo on 13 December,2002. [3] McLeod v. Aubyn : PC 1899. [1899] AC 549, [1899] UKPC 51. [4] Bridges v. California, 314 US 252 (1941) [5] Justice C.S.Karnan v. The Honorable Supreme Court of India on 23 August, 2017. [6] AIR 2002 SC 1375.

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