Contempt of Court -A debate


The issue of contempt of Court is in current affairs nowadays due to contempt proceedings against renowned Advocate and father of ‘Public Interest litigation’, Prashant Bhushan. He was found guilty of contempt of court because of his two tweets against the ill and biased working of  last six chief justices of India. This contempt case against Advocate Prashant Bhushan further opens the door for debate on Contempt act viz-a-viz freedom of expression.

Here Author tries to draw an analogy between the presumption of Innocence and presumption of guilt. He further explains the meaning, origin, and history of the concept ‘contempt of Court’. He further discusses the types of the concept. The major act which governs ‘Contempt of Court’ is ‘Contempt of Court Act, 1971, which defines ‘Contempt of Court’, its types and punishment. It also has provisions regarding what not constitutes as ‘Contempt of Court’ i.e. to say exceptions of contempt of court.

Meaning of ‘Contempt of Court’-

Here the word ‘Contempt’ is defined as ‘not to follow any rule, decision, law and order ‘ or ‘Contempt’ can also be defined as the ‘derogatory remark which ultimately demeans the status of Authority’. In the same way, we can define ‘Contempt of Court’- as not abiding of rules and regulations of laws and to make derogatory remarks against the court which can lead to distrust and chaos among the people in the Country. Till now, we have understood the meaning of ‘. Contempt of Court’. Now we should become more curious to know whether ‘Contempt of Court’ is punishable or not. There are many provisions in the Constitution itself which guarantees the power to the Court to proceed with the charges of contempt of the law.

The main provisions of the Indian Constitution regarding ‘Contempt of Court’ are as follow –

  • We have Article 129 in our Indian constitution which guarantees the Supreme Court (The Final Interpreter of The Constitution) the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • We have another Article 142(2) which empowers the Supreme Court to enforce decrees and orders to secure the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself.
  • We also have Article 215 in our Indian constitution which considers every High Court as a ‘Court of records’ and also vests all the power of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • Without mentioning article 19(2), the essence of ‘contempt of court’ is not possible to understand as it puts reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression as it advocates that there is no absolute freedom of speech and expression which affect the operation of any existing law, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or concerning Contempt of Court’.

Major findings from the above Constitutional provisions are that ‘Contempt of Court’ is punishable; The right to freedom of speech and expression does not give anyone license as it comes with reasonable restrictions. Now here we need to understand that to exercise the power under article 142,the Supreme Court does not pass any order in contravention of the statutory provisions, nor the power is exercised merely on sympathy. To understand the types of ‘Contempt of Court’, we have to go through major provisions of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. The basic features of the Act are as follows –

  1. Under section 2 of the Act, it mentions two types of Contempt
    • Civil contempt
    • Criminal Contempt
  2. The act defines the types of contempt, it mentions under section 2(b),“civil contempt” can be defined as “willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or another process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.”
  3.  It also mentions under section 2(c),criminal contempt” means the publication of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which –
    • Scandalises or tend to scandalize, or lower or tends to lower the authority of, here it means basically to degrading the status of the court by way of abbreviations, any court or;
    • Prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with due course of a judicial proceeding, here prejudicial implies that ill will towards the court;
    • interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner, here interference is in the regard to the interpretation of laws not directly covered under the Constitution.
  4. We also have section 13 where it is mentioned that a court should not do “contempt” until that contempt is in direct substantial interference with the due course of justice. Fair Comment on any judgment and truth is the defence against ‘ contempt of court’.

Major debate and criticism: Presumption of Innocence vs. Presumption of guilt:

Here Author tries to portray that presumption of Innocence is the fundamental principle of criminal law, while in contempt of Court cases, judge himself is the prosecutor, victim, and Judge, which is against the principle of fair trial and they follows the path of proceedings by way of presumption of guilt, in simple terms, an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but in case of ‘ Contempt of Court,’ an accused is presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Author’s point of view and conclusion –

In the Author’s point of view, in a liberal democratic country, Courts must use their power to contempt in the rarest of rare cases, as far as the ‘dignity’ of the court and ‘trust of people’ in the judiciary is a concern, because trust is something which does not come by imposing sanctions on constructive speech but by efficient work through empirically observing judgements, proceedings of the court and by acting independently without any prejudice. In the words of Lord Atkin – “Path of criticism is the public way, the wrongheaded are permitted to errtherein: provided the members of the public to abstain from imputing improper motive, justice is not the clustered virtue, she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny of respectful even though outspoken comment of ordinary men.” Judges in India should take a broad view of interpreting the criticisms against them.


  1. Bare Act, Constitution of India
  2. Bare Act,Contempt of Court Act, 1970
  3. Contempt powers, in the people’s name- The Hindu
  4. Contempt of Court Act, 1971 – Drishti IAS
  5. Contempt of Court – To the point

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