The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 was established in India on 24th December 1971. Contempt of Court is an unlawful act of being indisciplined to or disregardful in view with a court of law and its representatives in the way of conduct that disapproves of or goes against the council, law, and honor of the court. Section (a) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is defined as either Civil Contempt or Criminal Contempt. The definition is very narrow and classifies contempt into two types. Section (b) of the act defines Civil Contempt as deliberate defiance to any opinion of a judge, command, regulation, summons or another activity of a court or willful breaking of an assurance stated to a court. For example, when a person fails to pay child support regardless of the order of the court then it is civil contempt. Section (c) of the act defines Criminal Contempt as the dissemination (through expressions uttered or penned) of any event which slanders the power of the court, harms the proceedings of the court, or hampers authority of justice in any manner. For example, when a person insults a judge or causes a disturbance during the proceedings of courts then it is criminal contempt.
In the Constitution of India, two articles give light to the Contempt of Court and these articles are Article 129 and Article 142(2). As per Article 129, The Supreme Court of India has to be a Court of Record and needs to have complete authority of such a court which consists of the strength to penalize contempt of it.Article 142(2) states that on any laws framed by the Parliament, the Supreme Court needs to have the entire capacity to make any commands for obtaining the presence of any person, building or finding of any documents or the inspection or penalization of any Contempt of itself.
Many laws in our country have been borrowed from different countries of the world. Contempt of Court is sought to be taken from the English law but its roots are somewhere there in Indian history too. In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, he has broadly argued to punish a person if he uncovers the king or attends his ministry. The Contempt of Court Act 1926 gave the power to the High Court to punish for contempt against those who undermine their proceedings and sentences and also violate the subordinate court. The Contempt of Court Act 1952 established legislative arrangements for contempt of court in the country. On 1st April 1960, a bill concerning the need to reform the contempt action was put forward in Lok Sabha by Shri B B Das Gupta, in response of it government created a special committee in 1961, H.N. Sanyal being the chairman, which submitted its review on 28th February 1963 and leads to the formation of Contempt of Court Act 1971.
If a person is charged with Contempt of Court, then his act should consist of certain necessary conditions to make him liable for the offense. Firstly, in the matter of civil contempt, the act of disobedience towards the system of justice should be done intentionally and deliberately. In the matter of criminal contempt, the act of publication should be done either by the expressions uttered, penned, gestures, or via other visual depiction. Secondly, a rational order should be made by the court which should be in the awareness of the defendant. Lastly, the act of the one who commits contempt should ignore the order of the court. When these essentials are accomplished then it amounts to Contempt of Court as per the act of 1971.
When a person is charged with civil contempt of court, some defenses are available to him. The reason behind the contempt is either the order being unclear i.e. vague or ambiguous, unaware of the order, the order disregarded due to some reasonable reason, the order contains more than a single representation, obeying the order is not possible, or the order passed is void due to no jurisdiction, in all such cases, defense is accessible.
Similarly, criminal contempt also has defenses available under sections 3 to 7 of the act. It includes taking the responsibility of publication and distribution, the report being fair and accurate, making true comments, or complaints against the representatives of the court done in good faith. Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006 introduces a new section that lays another defense stating that contempt is not committed if it does not interfere with the proceedings of justice.
PUNISHMENT UNDER THE LAW
Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act 1971 defines Punishment, which penalizes simple imprisonment for six months or with fines which may go up to two thousand rupees or both. On apology to the court, the accused can be acquitted if the apology satisfies the court. Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006 introduces section 13 which gives the exceptions to contempt of court.
In the case of M.V. Jayarajan v High Court of Kerala (2015), the petitioner used unparliamentarily words and insulted the Kerala High Court in the year 2010 at a public gathering. Kerala High Court started contempt proceedings, detained him guilty of contempt of court, and awarded imprisonment of six months. In the apex court too, it was held that no person can use offensive words against the judicial system and the petitioner being non-apologetic upheld the decision of the Kerala High Court but even reduced the sentence to four months.
In the case of Hon. Justice Shri C.S. Karnan (2017), Justice Karnan was accused of Criminal Contempt, he scandalized many judges and hold them guilty of corruption. He also damaged the image of the court and interfered with proceedings of the court. So, he was awarded imprisonment for six months. But the case went through much criticism because the conduct of the court was inappropriate in forming the bench, ignorance of the apology of the appellant, and the ruling was held in a hush. The two cases are milestones in the history of contempt of court. The first case judgment discloses the importance of the good reputation of the judicial system in India. The second case controversy brings forward the extreme need to constitute a better procedure to be followed in the court of law.
Many renowned personalities have criticized the Contempt of Court Act. The constitution of India provided fundamental rights which cannot be taken away. Articles 19 and 21 deal with the freedom of speech and expression and freedom of life and personal liberty respectively. But the contempt of court act limits this freedom and is hence in conflict with India’s democratic system. Criminal Contempt can be easily invoked as its definition in India is too wide, thus at times, the punishment awarded is a little too harsh. In March 2018, the Law Commission of India advised limiting the contempt of court to the matters of civil contempt only. India borrowed the act from the United Kingdom but the UK itself abolished the offense of scandalizing the court therefore, the demand for deletion of the act has gained backing.
Contempt of Court has been in the news for the past few months. The case of KunalKamra for the tweets against the Supreme Court on the matter of Arnab Goswami’s bail appeal or the tweets of Prashant Bhushan on the judicial system of India drew the attention of the public at large. But yet people are unaware of the objectives of the act. The act is criticized as it violates the freedom of speech and expression but the real fact is no person is restricted to put forward his opinions however this voicing need to be done by maintaining the honor of law and order in society. There are demands to amend the definition of contempt but it may result in ambiguity and hence is avoided. The court too has to look upon improving its responsibility and impartiality so that the public gets more trust in it. Many cases are filed for canceling the act nevertheless it won’t impact the offense as it is already stated in the constitutional powers. To conclude, the prestige of the authority of law needs to be maintained through lawful means only.
Author(s) Name: Vedika Nitin Jadhav (Mumbai University)
 Contempt of Court Acts, 1971, s (a)
 Contempt of Court Acts, 1971, s (b)
 Contempt of Court Acts, 1971, s (c)
 Constitution of India,1949, art.129
 Constitution of India, 1949, art.142(2)
 Tanya Khan, ‘Contempt of Court Act, 1971: An Overview’ (Legal Services India) <https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6214-contempt-of-court-act-1971-an-overview.html#:~:text=Essentials%20of%20Contempt%20of%20Court,commit%20that%20act%20or%20not > accessed 24 July 2022
 Contempt of Court Acts, 1971, ss 3-7
 Contempt of Court Acts, 1971, s 12
 Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 2006, s 13
 M.V. Jayarajan v High Court of Kerala (2015) Criminal Appeal No. 2099/2011
 Constitution of India, 1950, art.19 and art.21