The concept of contempt of court is several centuries old. In England, it is a common law principle that seeks to protect the judicial power of the king, initially exercised by him, and later by a panel of judges who acted in his name. Violation of the judges’ orders was considered an affront to the king himself. Over time, any kind of disobedience to judges, or obstruction of the implementation of their directives, or comments and actions that showed disrespect towards them came to be punishable.
The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is based on the recommendations made by the Sanyal Committee and the Joint Select Committee.
According to the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 contempt of court means showing disrespect for the dignity and rights of a court. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is intended to maintain the dignity and importance of the Court.
The powers associated with contempt help judges to discharge their duties without fear, partiality and feeling.
What are the kinds of contempt of court?
The law codifying contempt classifies it as civil and criminal.
- Civil contempt is fairly simple. It is committed when someone willfully disobeys a court order, or willfully breaches an undertaking given to court.
- Criminal contempt is more complex. It consists of three forms:
(a) Words, written or spoken, signs and actions that “scandalise” or “tend to scandalise” or “lower” or “tends to lower” the authority of any court
(b) Prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding and
(c) Interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice.
Article 129: empowers the Supreme Court to punish for contempt of its own.
Article 142 (2): This Article enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person charged with contempt.
Article 215: Enables the High Courts to punish themselves for contempt.
Other issues related to contempt:
Article 19 of the Constitution provides freedom of speech to every citizen of India, but the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 has curbed against the functioning of the court.
The law is very subjective, so the penalty of contempt can be used by the court to suppress the voice of the person who criticizes it.
Provision of penalty for contempt of court:
The Supreme Court and the High Court have the power to punish for contempt of court. This penalty can be a simple imprisonment of six months or a fine of up to Rs 2000 or both.
In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that it had the power to punish not only himself but also in contempt cases of High Courts, Subordinate Courts and Tribunals all over the country.
The High Courts have been empowered to punish for contempt of subordinate courts under Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
In a recent judgment Supreme Court held that Ranbaxy promoters Malvinder and Shivinder Singh guilty of contempt for violating its order that had asked them not to divest their shares in Fortis Healthcare Limited.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta, held them guilty of contempt of court and said that they had violated its earlier order by which the sale of their controlling stakes in Fortis Group to Malaysian firm IHH Healthcare was put on hold.
The Japanese firm had filed a contempt petition against them, alleging that execution of their arbitral award had been in jeopardy as the Singh brothers disposed of their controlling stakes in the Fortis Group to the Malaysian firm.
Even if a Central Government or a State Government refuses to comply with or execute the order passed by the Hon’ble High Court, then in that case, the aggrieved person can file a contempt petition for contempt of Court in the high Court against the concerned department and officials. You have to hire an experienced lawyer having deep knowledge of the contempt proceedings.
In a recent decision of the Supreme Court in Re Vijay Kurle decided on 27th April, 2020 in Suo-Moto Contempt Petition (Criminal) No.2 of 2019 it has been reiterated that “Parliament has not enacted any law dealing with the powers of the Supreme Court with regard to investigation and punishment for contempt itself…section 15 is not substantive provision conferring contempt jurisdiction and therefore is only a procedural section especially in so far as Suo-Moto contempt are concerned”.
In Para 30 of the aforesaid decision, a three judges bench decision of the Supreme Court in Pallav Sheth versus Custodian was perfunctorily dealt with bypassed by stating:
“this court in that case was only dealing with question whether contempt can be initiated after the limitation prescribed in the contempt of courts Act has expired and the observation made therein have to be read in that context only…. It, however, went on to hold that providing the question of punishment or a period of limitation would not mean that the powers of the court under Article 129 have stultified or abrogated. Without commenting one way or the other on Pallav Sheth’s case (Supra) it is clear that the same has not dealt with power of this court to issue Suo-Moto notice of contempt”.
In Para 31 the Supreme Court said that “in view of the above discussion we are clearly of the view that the powers of Supreme Court to initiate contempt are not in any manner limited by the provision of the Act”.
The 1971 Act is a composite legislation pertaining to High Courts and the Supreme Courts both. Section 15 and 19 of the Act specifically mentions the Supreme Court and prescribes the manner of taking cognizance and right to appeal.
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