Contempt of Court And Social Media

Contempt of court, often referred simply as “contempt”, is the offence of being disobedient to or discourteous towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. Contempt of court basically means, anything done which curtails or impairs judicial proceedings resulting in the interference with due course administration of law and justice. According to Halsbury, “contempt consisting of words spoken or written which obstructs the administration of justice.”

Contempt Of Court In India  

In India, Contempt of court is under section.2(a) of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which defines contempt of court as “civil contempt or criminal contempt”. It is generally felt that the existing law relating to contempt of courts is somewhat uncertain, undefined, and unsatisfactory. As the jurisdiction to punish contempt of court also touches two important fundamental rights of the citizens, namely, ‘the right to personal liberty (article 21) and the right to freedom of speech expression (article 19)’. So, a special committee was set up in 1961 under the chairmanship of late H N Sanyal, the then additional solicitor general, to give recommendations on this law. So, this committee had conducted a detailed examination on law and problems relating to it and gave certain recommendations which had been accepted by government after considering points of state governments, union territories, the union and state judiciaries etc. Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is an act enacted by parliament in twenty second year of Republic of India, to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of court and to regulate their procedure in relation thereto.  

Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the supreme court and high court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt. Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempt of its subordinate courts. Powers to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215 is not subject to Article 19(1)(a). Contempt of court is a constitutional power vested with supreme court of India. Superior courts of records have the powers to punish contempt relating to the judges of those courts and the proceedings therein. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, under section 2(c) defines and limits the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts.

Contempt of Court are classified under three broad categories, according to Lord Hardwick:

1. Scandalizing the court itself.

2. Abusing parties who are concerned in the cause, in the presence of court.

3. Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.

Types Of Contempt Of Court In India

In India there are two types, namely.

Civil Contempt

Under section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, civil contempt has been defined as willful disobedience to any Judgements, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Defenses In Civil Contempt:

A person charged with civil contempt of court can take certain defenses such as,

  • No knowledge of order: The general principle is that a person cannot be held guilty of contempt in respect of an order of which he claims to be unaware.
  • Disobedience or breach was not willful: It can be pleaded that although disobedience or breach of the order has taken place, but it was due to accidental, administrative, or other reasons beyond the control of party concerned.
  • Order disobeyed is vague or ambiguous: If the order passed by court is vague or ambiguous or its not specific or complete. (1. Bharat coking coal Ltd. v. State of Bihar)
  • Order involves more than on reasonable interpretation: This defense is available only when a bona fide question of interpretation arises. If the order whose contempt is alleged involves more than one reasonable and rational interpretation and the respondent adopts one of them and acts according to them, then he cannot hold liable.
  • Compliance of the order is impossible: In proceedings for civil contempt, it would be a valid defense that the compliance of order is impossible.
  • The order has been passed without jurisdiction: If the order whose contempt is alleged, has been passed by a court which had no jurisdiction to pass it, the disobedience or violation would not amount to contempt of court as the order is void and binds nobody.

Criminal Contempt

Under section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act,1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act which:

a). Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court, or

b). Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with due course of any judicial proceeding, or

c). Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Defenses in Criminal Contempt:

  • Innocent publication and distribution of matter: (section 3)

There is an exception as innocent publication, distribution of matter as well as fair and reasonable criticism against judicial acts or administration of judiciary does not amount to contempt of court.

  • Fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings: (section 4)

A person should not be held guilty for publishing a fair and accurate report of any judicial proceedings or any stages.

  • Fair criticism of judicial act:(section 5)

A person shall not be guilty of publishing any fair comment on the merits of any case which has been finally decided.

  • Bonafide complain against the presiding officer of a subordinate court: (section 6)

A person shall not be guilty in respect of any statement made by him by way of complaint in good faith concerning the president officer of any sub-ordinate court to the high court or to the court to which he is sub-ordinate.

  • No substantial interference with due course of justice: (section 13)

No court shall impose a sentence for contempt of court unless it is satisfied that the contempt is of nature that it will interfere or tends to interfere with due course of justice.

  • Justification by truth:(section 13 (2))

Truth is now a defense if it is in the public interest and bonafide.

  • Defamation of judge personally: If the publication or other act is merely a defamatory attack on the judge and is not intended with the administration of justice, it will not be taken as contempt of court.

Examples of contempt of court:

Misbehaving in court such as a witness insults a judge, bribing a witness etc.

A contempt of court in India may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with a fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or both.

Case Laws

In 2020, the Supreme court of India initiated the proceedings for criminal contempt of court against lawyer- activist Prashant Bhushan. The contempt charges were lodged in the context of the comment made on social media on 29June 2020, targeting the current chief justice of India.

In this recent case of contempt of court, the action was taken against the two tweets of advocate Prashant Bhushan on current chief justice of India, S.A. Bobde, and former chief justices. In this case, a three-judge bench of supreme court found civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt by ‘scandalizing the court’. The tweet by Prashant Bhushan on a photograph of chief justice of India, Sharad. A. Bobde astride a bike and another on the court’s role in the past six years scandalized the supreme court as an institution. So, in a 108 –page judgement the judges said that punishing a lawyer was an extreme measure but nevertheless necessary to keep the “streams of justice pure, serene and undefiled”. The bench was headed by Justice Arun Mishra. It was the duty of the court to punish to preserve its dignity, the judgement emphasized. The defense by Prashant Bhushan was that the tweet was just criticism and criticism was not contempt.  This was dismissed by Justice Krishna Murari. The court said that Mr. Bhushan’s tweet gave the impression that “the Chief Justice as enjoying his ride on a motorbike worth rs.50 lakh belonging to a BJP leader, at a time when he has kept the supreme court in lockdown denying citizens fundamental right to access justice”. This was a tweet made on wild allegations and distorted facts. So, this was scandalous.

Also, the court said that the second tweet gave the impression that the supreme court and four former chief justices in the past six years played a vital role in the destruction of democracy.

The Supreme Court thus fined Prashant Bhushan re.1 for his tweets on judiciary and if he defaulted the payment, he will be imprisoned for three months and debarred from practicing for three years. This was done after numerous arguments in which Bhushan refused to apologies. The court noted that freedom of speech was important, but rights of others must also be respected.

2. Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union of India And Anr.

(17 April 1998) In Re: Vinay Chandra Mishra, (1995) 2 SCC 584, the court found the contemner, an advocate, guilty of committing criminal contempt of court with and obstructing the course of justice by trying to threaten, overawe and overbear the court by using insulting, disrespectful and threatening language. The award of punishment was to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six weeks. Also, he is suspended for 3 years from practicing as an advocate. The question raised was whether the Supreme Court of India can while dealing with contempt proceedings exercise power under Article 129 or under Article 142.

3. Advocate General, Andhra Pradesh v. A.V. Koteswara Rao

(20 September 1983) This contempt application has been filed by the Advocate General against the respondent who was acting as an Additional District and Sessions Judge at Cuddapah. Two questions arise in this case, first one is whether the period of limitation prescribed by section 20 of 1971 Act is attracted to cases of contempt of the High Court which is a court of Record under Article 215. Second question is Whether for purposes of Section 20 of 1971 Act the material date was the date of filling of the contempt application or the date of initiation of the contempt proceedings and as to what is meant by initiation.

Conclusion

All citizens of India are guaranteed the fundamental rights which includes the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, we can say that the contempt of court is indeed one of the reasonable restrictions on the enforcement of this right. This is because our fundamental rights guaranteed to Indian citizens are absolute. There are certain restrictions other than this on right to freedom of speech and expression.  These restrictions were included to balance the enforcement of fundamental rights as well as maintenance of stability and dignity of our judiciary. This are highly necessary especially in the era we are living as use of social media are increasing day by day. Now, each person has access to internet and other social medias. People will try to put whatever they feel as posts in social medias, but this cannot be denied because every Indian citizen is ensured freedom of speech and expression. But to maintain the dignity of the judiciary in India, the enforcement and punishment on this kind of offensive posts are necessary. 

FAQs

1. What Do You Meant By Contempt Of Court?

 Contempt of Court is the offence of being disobedient to or discourteous towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior opposes or defies the authority, justice, dignity of court.

2. How Contempt Of Court Are Classified Under Indian Law?

Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt.

References

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