Remarks, speeches, illustrations and social media comments made by individuals have on several occasions resulted in accusations of being in ‘contempt of court’. These, however, do not always hold and are dismissed by the Attorney General of India, whose prior consent is required for the Supreme Court to initiate criminal contempt action. So what really does the law say about contempt of court? When is one guilty of it?
What is contempt of court?
According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court. On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
A contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both, provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.