Contempt of Court

Contempt of Court refers to the Act of not obeying an order made by the court or showing a lack of respect to the judge or the court. The Contempt of court Act, 1971 talks about the various Sections which define civil contempt, criminal contempt, the procedure to be followed for contempt, punishment, and remedies, limitations, etc. Also, Article 129, 215, 142(2) of the Indian Constitution is related to the contempt of the Supreme Court, High Courts.


Here, the word Contempt of court is a generic term that refers to the offense of showing disrespect to the dignity or authority of a court. Anything which curtails the freedom of limits of the results of the judicial proceedings in hampering of the administration of law and interfering with the due course of justice. The main purpose of contempt of court is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the judiciary. Also, it gives the power to the judge to do their duties of deciding cases without any fear, or not to decide the case in favor of known, affection or ill will, etc.

Also, a judge may impose sanctions such as fine, imprisonment, etc for being disobedient to or disrespectful towards the Court of law. The power to punish for the contempt of court is given to the Supreme Court and high courts which is defined under Article 129 and Article 215 respectively of the Indian Constitution.  Also, the Act of 1971 allows the High Court to punish for the contempt of subordinate courts.

 Contempt of Court Act, 1971

  1. It defines the power of courts to punish for their disrespect and also regulates their procedure.
  2. This Act was amended in 2006 to include the defense of truth under Section 13 of the legislation.
  3. This Act mainly divide the contempt into two parts which are mentioned under Section 2(a) of the act –
  4. Civil contempt -It is defined under Section 2(b) of the Act. It is the willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, etc of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court. In this type of court, there is no imprisonment but yes fine can be added as the punishment.
  5. Criminal contempt – It is defined under Section 2(c) of the Act. It is the publication of words either spoken, written or by sign or gesture of any matter or the doing of any Act whatsoever which lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court or prejudice or interference with the due course of any judicial proceedings or the obstruction of the administration of justice in any other manner. And here a person can be imprisonment as well.
  6. Section 10 of the Act defines the power of the High Courts to punish contempts of its subordinate courts. 

A committee was set up in 1961 under the chairmanship of H N Sanyal, which examines the problems related to contempt of court in light of position obtaining in our country and other foreign countries. The recommendation made by the committee is to give importance to freedom of speech and to safeguard the status and dignity of courts and the interest of the administration of justice.

Essentials elements needed to establish contempt are

  1. The making of a valid court order.
  2. Willful disobedience of the order.
  3. The order should be known to the respondent.
  4. The respondent can render compliance.

Relation of Contempt of Court with Constitution

Some of the articles of the Indian Constitution also talks about the contempt of court. They are as follows –

  • Article 129 – This article says that the Supreme Court shall be the court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for the contempt of itself. It is a special jurisdiction which is used to uphold the dignity of the court. It also provides efficiency to the functioning of the judicial forum.
  • Article 215 – High Courts to be the courts of records. Every High Court shall have the power of such a court including the power for contempt of itself.
  • Article 142(2) – This article also enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt which means the Supreme Court has the power to give punishment to anyone for its contempt.

Article 129 and 215 of the Indian Constitution do not confer any new jurisdiction or do not vest any power to the Supreme Court and the High Courts but gave the inherent jurisdiction to punish for their contempt. It does not have any specific rules and is governed by the principle of natural justice. And this power can be taken away only by legislative enactment in the Constitution.

The jurisdiction to punish for contempt goes against the fundamental rights of the citizens, namely the right of personal liberty and the right of freedom of expression.

Contempt Proceedings

Two Sections of the Act talks about the procedure for contempt of court.

Section 14 talks about the procedure of contempt proceedings in the court whereas Section 15 talks about the procedure of the Contempt proceedings outside the court. The Supreme Court and High Courts can deal with the matter of content by making their procedure. The procedure made by them should be fair and reasonable in which the alleged should be given full opportunity to defend himself. The person will be punished only when he won’t be able to give a reasonable answer to the questions. 

Contempt by a Company 

In certain cases, if any person is found guilty of undertaking given to the court while he is the member of the company then the person who is in charge of the company would be liable for the contempt of court and the punishment would become under the civil prison of such person. Also, the charge can be free from the liability if he proves that the contempt was committed without his knowledge.


A third party to the proceedings may be guilty of contempt of court if he is the part of the offense committed and it is necessary to show that the person made liable knew of the order.

Punishment for Contempt of Court

Section 12 of the Act deals with the punishment for the Contempt of Court. Section 12(1) of the Act states that a person who has the charges of contempt of court can be punished with simple imprisonment, which can extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or it can be both. Also, the accused may be discharged from the punishment only if he makes an apology which satisfies the court.

The court cannot impose a sentence for contempt of court over what the punishment is prescribed in Section 12 of the Act.

Remedies against an order of Punishment

Section 13 of the Act talks about the contempt of court cannot be punished under certain circumstances –

Section 13(a) – Any person cannot be punished for the contempt of court unless it is satisfied that contempt is of such a nature that it interferes with the due course of justice.

Section 13(b) – The court has the right to give the defense of justification of truth if it is for the interest of the public and is for the request of invoking the defense is bona fide.


Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 talks about the limitation period within which the action can be taken. The limitation period is one year from the date on which the contempt is charged to have been committed.

Case laws related to Contempt of Court

Ashok Paper Kamgar Union and Ors. v. Dharam Godha And Ors.[1]

In this case, the Supreme Court examined the provision of Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 which defines the term civil contempt. It signifies a deliberate action with bad intentions or bad motives. Therefore, to constitute contempt, it must be of such a nature that is capable of execution by the person charged in normal circumstances. It should not require any extraordinary effort. And this has to be judged regarding the facts and circumstances of each case.

Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr.[2]

In this case, the Supreme Court Analysed the Constitutional powers vested under Article 129 with 142(2) of the Indian Constitution and the power of the High Court under Article 215 of the Indian Constitution to punish for contempt. Also, the Supreme Court remarked that no Act of Parliament can take away the inherent jurisdiction of the Court of Records.

D. N. Taneja v. Bhajan Lal[3]

In this case, Supreme Court explained that any person, who moves for contempt of court can only bring the notice to the court and may assist the court but at least there will be two parties – the court and the contemnor.


The existing role relating to contempt of lower courts is unsatisfactory and misleading in India. And the reason behind this is the overlap of contempt powers under Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Powers are given to Supreme Court and High Courts under Indian Constitution. Contempt of Court if seen from the perspective of the judges, higher judicial officials seek good but if it comes to the perspective of common people it turns towards its bad effect.

Bibliography and References –


[1] AIR 2004 SC 105

[2] (1998) 4 SCC 409

[3] (1988) 3 SCC 26.

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