Contempt of court is the offence of being rebellious or disrespectful to the court of law. Being impolite to legal authorities in the courtroom, or rebelliously failing to follow a court order may draw Contempt of Court proceedings.

Definition of Contempt of Court

Contempt of court often referred to simply as “contempt”, is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. A similar attitude towards a legislative body is termed contempt of Parliament.

There are broadly two categories of contempt:

  1. Being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom.
  2. Willfully failing to obey a court order.

When a court decides that an action constitutes contempt of court, it can issue an order that in the context of a court trial or hearing declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court’s authority, called “found” or “held” in contempt. The judge’s strongest power is to impose sanctions for acts that disrupt the court’s normal process.

Contempt proceedings are primarily used to enforce equitable remedies, such as injunctions. In some jurisdictions, the refusal to respond to a subpoena, testify, fulfill a juror’s obligations, or provide certain information can constitute contempt of the court.

Contempt of Court Act,1971

1. The act defines the power of courts to punish for their contempt and regulates their procedure.
2. It was amended in 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation. Implying that the court must permit justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest.

Criminal contempt can bring punishment including jail time and/or a fine. Contempt of court can take place either “directly” or “indirectly.”

Examples include improperly communicating with jurors outside the court, refusing to turn over subpoenaed evidence and refusing to pay court-ordered child support.


Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has held former Ranbaxy promoters guilty of contempt for violating its order.

  • The expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.
  • As per the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, contempt refers to the offence of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court.
  • The act divides contempt into civil and criminal contempt.
    • Civil contempt: It is willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court.
    • Criminal contempt: It is any publication that may result in:
      • Scandalizing the court by lowering its authority.
      • Interference in the due course of a judicial proceeding.
      • An obstruction in the administration of justice.
  • However, innocent publication and distribution of some matter, fair and reasonable criticism of judicial acts, and comment on the administrative side of the judiciary do not amount to contempt of court.

What is the punishment for Contempt of Court?

A finding of being in contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behavior, or publication of material or non-disclosure of material, which in doing so is deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court, which makes contempt of court a process crime. Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.

Both the High Court and the Supreme Court of India are bestowed with the power to punish contempt of the court.

According to the Indian Penal Code Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, contempt of court can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term extending to six months, with a fine extending to two thousand rupees, or with both.

There are two types of contempt of court:

  • Criminal Contempt of Court
  • Civil Contempt of Court.

Civil contempt often involves the failure of someone to comply with a court order. Judges use civil contempt sanctions to coerce such a person into complying with a court order the person has violated.

Whereas for criminal contempt of court, the charges are punitive, meaning they serve to deter future acts of contempt by punishing the offender no matter what happens in the underlying proceeding.

Need for Contempt Law

  • The purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the judiciary.
  • Contempt powers help judges to do their duties of deciding cases without fear, favor, affection, or ill will.

Issues with Contempt Law

  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens, while “contempt provisions” curb people’s freedom to speak against the court’s functioning.
  • The law is very subjective and might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily to suppress criticism by the public.

Who can file a contempt petition?

Any Person Aggrieved With Violation Of General Directions Issued In A Judgment Can File a Contempt Petition.

Contempt of Court is a constitutional power vested with the Supreme Court of India. Article 129 of the Indian Constitution of India states “The Supreme Court of India shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.”






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