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Contempt of court is an offense of being disobedient to a court. Being insolent to legal authorities or wilfully failing to obey an order by court may attract Contempt of Court proceedings. A judge may impose punishment such as a fine or imprisonment for a person found guilty of contempt of court. The High Court has power to punish for the contempt of subordinate courts under the act of 1971.

Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution gives the right of freedom of speech and expression to all the citizens. But Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India gives a power to the higher judiciary of contempt of court, and this power limits the freedom under Article 19 (1) (a). Article 142 provides the power to punish for contempt with the caveat that Parliament may legislate on how it is to be investigated and punished. Thus, law of contempt is basically made to protect the interests of administration of justice, which must be fearless, impartial and upright.

Origin of Contempt of Court

In early period, a man was free to act in any manner as he wanted. The society was formed by our first ancestors to bring peace, without which no development is possible. It was agreed that individual liberties be curtailed to some extent and any disputes between the people be settled by an independent agency. This agency was the King. Certain guidelines formulated by the King were termed as laws. Everyone in the society was to act according to such guidelines. If any person disobeyed the laws, punishment was given for the same. Administration of justice was a paramount duty of the Kings in early times.

As the society expanded, number of disputes kept on increasing. It was difficult for the King to personally settle all the disputes. He, therefore, appointed other persons to perform his duties. So, this is how “courts” were formed. The courts settled the disputes on the basis of guidelines given by the King. It was considered that the decision given by the courts were the decisions of the King. No one was allowed to interfere in the administration of justice, if he did, he was liable to be punished. It is how the law of contempt was made. Contempt of Court is a matter which regards that justice should be administered fairly and punishes a person who aims to hurt the dignity or authority of the judicial tribunals.


Contempt of Court means when a person is disrespectful or disobedience towards the court of law or he wilfully fails to obey the court order or disrespect the legal authorities, then the judge has a right to impose sanctions such as fines or can send the contemnor to jail for a certain period of time if he is found guilty of Contempt of Court.

In India, the Contempt of Court is defined in Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 in which it is described as civil contempt or criminal contempt.

Article 129 and 142 (2) of the Constitution of India talks about the Contempt of Court.

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. The ‘Court of Record’ means a Court which have registered its acts and proceedings for everlasting memory. The truth of these records cannot be questioned and they are treated as a higher authority. Anything that is stated against these records is Contempt of Court.

Article 142(2) says that when any law is made by the Parliament on the provisions under Article 142(1), the Supreme Court can make an order to secure any person’s attendance, to produce any documents or to give punishment to anyone for the contempt of the court.

History of Law of Contempt in India

The law of contempt is brought from English laws and statutes. Until 1952, there were no provisions for the contempt of court in India. A bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha to make changes or to make the existing law relating to contempt more strong. On 1st April, 1960, Sh. B.B Das Gupta introduced the bill. After examining the bill, the government noticed the need for reform in the existing Act. So, in 1961 a special committee was set up to inspect the existing Act, under the chairmanship of H.N. Sanyal who gave their report on 28th February, 1963. The report of this committee is known as the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 and it repealed the old existing Act of Contempt of Court and came into force in 1952.

Essentials of Contempt of Court

Every offence has certain exceptions that has to be fulfilled to make the person liable for doing an act. Contempt of Court has certain essentials which are as follows:

· In case of Civil Contempt, Disobedience should be wilfully done in any type of court proceedings, its orders, judgment, decree, etc.

· In Criminal Contempt, the most important thing is publication and it can be either spoken or written, by words, by signs, or by visible representation.

· The court shall make a ‘valid order’ which should be in ‘knowledge’ of the respondent.

· The action of contemnor should clearly disregard the court’s order.

Types of Contempt of Court in India

It is of two types:

· Civil Contempt

· Criminal Contempt

Civil Contempt

Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines Civil Contempt as wilfully disobeying an order, decree, direction, any judgment or writ of the Court by any person or breach by a person of undertakings given to a Court.

In Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup, a decree was executed by the court to deliver immovable property but the defendant failed to do so. He was held liable to constitute disobedience to the orders of the court.

In U.P. Resi. Emp. Co-op., House B. Society v. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, the Supreme Court directed the Noida Authorities to verify the affidavit details given by persons for allotment of plots. One of the persons filed a false affidavit to mislead the court. His act was considered as a Contempt of court for misleading the court.

Criminal Contempt

According to Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, it is defined as

· any matter published by words, spoken or written, or by gestures, or by signs, or by visible representation or

· doing an act which includes:

a) Scandalise or to lower the authority of any court, or

b) Biased or interferes in any type of judicial proceedings,

c) Obstructs or interferes with the administration of justice in any manner.

Punishment for Contempt of Court

Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 includes the punishment for Contempt of Court. High Court and the Supreme Court has the power to punish a person for the Contempt of Court. Section 12(1) of the Act says that a person who is alleged of the Contempt of Court be punished with simple imprisonment and which may extend to six months, or a fine of not more than two thousand rupees or both. However, an accused may be exempted from the punishment if he makes an apology that satisfies the court.

Remedies against an order of Punishment

In 2006 Amendment, Section 13 has been added to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 which tells that under what circumstances a person cannot be punished in contempt of court.

Section 13(a) of the act says that a person shall not be punished if the court is satisfied that the contempt is of such a nature that it provides for due course of justice.

Section 13(b) of the act says that the defence may be provided for the justification of truth if the act is done in the public interest and the request for invoking the defence is bona fide.

Landmark Judgments:

P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others

In this case, the Supreme Court held that the judges cannot uphold their own dignities by using the contempt jurisdiction. India is a democratic country and we could not restrict anyone to criticise the judicial system unless this criticism affects the ‘administration of justice’.

R. Rajagopal vs State Of T.N

This case is called the Auto Shankar case. In this case, Justice Jeevan Reddy cited a very famous doctrine of John Sullivan. This doctrine says that a person cannot be restricted to make comments and accusations if it is done with bonafide diligence, even if it is not true.

In Re: Arundhati Roy

In this case, the Supreme Court held that if the criticism is made on the conduct of a Judge or its function and if it is made in good faith and public interest, it may not amount to contempt.

Justice Karnan’s case

Justice Karnan was the first sitting High Court Judge who was jailed for six months on the accusation of Contempt of Court. He accused 20 judges of higher judiciary of corruption but could not provide any evidence. So, In February 2017, contempt of court proceeding was initiated against him.


In a democratic country like India, the three organs of the Government, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary perform their functions within their limitations for the benefit of the public. No organ could interfere in the functioning of the other. Judiciary is entrusted with the function of administration of justice but it cannot be superior to the other two organs. All the three pillars keep each other in check and could be called a system of checks and balances. So, through contempt proceedings, the judiciary is able to perform its function of proper administration of justice and it also safeguards the Rule of Law. Any person or any authority could be held liable for the contempt if there is any kind of interference in the administration of justice. The judiciary uses it as a weapon to maintain the supremacy of law.


· Utpal Kumar Das v. Court of the Munsiff, Kamrup, A.I.R. 2008 Gau 62: 2008 (2) Gau LR 706.

· U.P. Resi. Emp. Co-op., House B. Society v. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, A.I.R. 2003 SC 2723.

· P.N. Duda vs. V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others, 1988 A.I.R. 1208.

· R. Rajagopal vs. State Of T.N, 1995 A.I.R. 264.

· In Re: Arundhati Roy…. … vs. — on, 2002 A.I.R. (SCW) 1210.






· The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971

[DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only. We have tried to include as much information as possible but there are chances that some important information may have been missed .It is NOT to be substituted for legal advice or taken as legal advice. The publishers of the this article shall not be liable for any act or omission based on this note].

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