Meaning of Contempt of Court: Contempt of court generally is any behavior or wrongdoing that conflicts with or challenges the authority, integrity, and superiority of the court. It may include failure to comply with requests, witness tampering, withdrawing evidence or defying court orders.
In Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, “contempt of court” means 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;
“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—
1. scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
2. prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
3. interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;
Defences In Contempt
1. Innocent publication and distribution of matter.
2. Fair and Accurate report of judicial proceedings.
3. Fair Criticism of Judicial Act.
4. Bonafide complaint against presiding officers of the subordinate court.
5. No substantial interference with due course of justice and truth as a defence.
6. Defamation of judge personally: If the publication or other act is merely a defamatory attack on the judge and is not calculated to interfere with the due administration of justice, it won’t be contempt. The judge has ordinary remedies for defamation, but it can’t be punished as contempt.
Punishments for Contempt of Court
1. The supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both.
2. In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that it has the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts and tribunals functioning in the entire country.
3. On the other hand, High Courts have been given special powers to punish contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971.
Constitutional Provisions and Contempt of Court:
1. The expression ‘contempt of court’ has not been defined by the Constitution.
2. Article 129: Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
3. Article 142(2): Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.
4. Article 215: Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
5. The Constitution also includes contempt of court as a reasonable restriction to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, along with elements like public order and defamation.