Do you remember Sunny Deol screaming at the top of his voice ‘taarikh pe taarikh’ to judge in the movie Damini or Govinda firing his arms to prove his point in a court in movie Kyunki Mein Jhooth Nahi Bolta? Though nothing happened to either Sunny Deol or Govinda in the respective movies but in reality these instances are perfect example of contempt of court. India recognises both contempt of court by lawyers in India and contempt of court by others.
Courts have impeached, imprisoned and penalised individuals for denigration of judiciary in India. Freedom of speech stands on shaky grounds clubbed with the dubious tumult between annotation and mockery. It penalised individuals for denigration of judiciary in India.
The face-off between the Supreme Court (SC) and Justice Karnan, unveiled a series of events that gave us a vague idea of the offence of contempt of court in India and the repercussions akin to it! In late 2016, the infamous tussle between Justice Markandey Katju and the Supreme Court also raised some serious questions on contempt law in India.
But the questions which are generally asked are what is contempt? or what is contempt of court in India? Does it amount to a criminal act or it is just a civil contempt of court in India ? Is it insolentness or judicial criticism? Is it an offense against the court or the judges? These and many other issues have arisen on contempt law in India due to recent advances of the Indian judiciary.
Tantamount contempt of court has held a rather subjective definition that is open to discretion of judges. Whether it is criticism of judicial decisions, refusal to obey court order or naive behaviour in courtrooms that amounts to contempt, is a matter of circumspection.
Stance of law
The English law on contempt was enacted because the judges were appointed by the king and to abuse the judge was to abuse the king himself. However, the UK last convicted a person for scandalising the honour of the judiciary in 1931 and seldom used the provision thereafter. The rationale accorded to this is that the judiciary doesn’t need to rest itself on such shallow grounds. It should, better yet, ignore any scandalous comments.
English judges gradually started using defamation law to penalise serious offenders. Eventually, in 2013, upon the recommendation of UK Law Commission, the offence of scandalising the court was abolished in toto.
However, India continues to follow the two century old law, in the name of upholding the independence of judiciary. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 expansively penalises the offence of contempt against courts. It says specifically criminalises any act or statement which curtails and impairs the freedom of judiciary or case proceedings and results in impeding administration of law and interfering with due course of justice as contempt of court. In such cases, criminal lawyers can help in dealing with contempt cases.
Section 12 of contempt of court act provides punishment for contempt of court in India. The section states that contempt of court punishment is simple imprisonment of 6 months or fine upto Rs. 2000 or both.
There are broadly two types of contempt in India:
Civil Contempt- Section 2(b) of the Act says civil contempt of court is when a person disobeys any order of a court. Such disobedience has to take place willfully in order to bring a civil action against the wrongdoer. For instance, Sahara Chief Subrata Roy was arrested for civil contempt of court for not following the Supreme Court’s order. Punishment for civil contempt of court India as provided under Contempt of Court Act is imprisonment of term extending upto 6 months if the court finds that fine imposed is not enough. In such cases, Civil Lawyers help you defend you case.
Criminal Contempt- Under Section 2(c) of the Act, criminal contempt of court has been summarily defined as “interfering” with the administration of justice or “scandalizing” the court or “lowering its authority”. For instance, tossing a shoe at the bench or the infamous arrest of Arundhati Roy for criticising Bombay High Court’s judgment. Punishment for criminal contempt of court India as provided under Section 12 of Contempt of Court Act is same as that of civil contempt. Best Criminal Lawyers can help you deal with a criminal case of contempt of court.
Main components required to establish the offence of contempt are:
- A valid court order,
- Knowledge of the order to the offender, and
- Wilful disobedience of the order.
Such elements constituted together should result in any or all of the following to complete the offence of contempt:
- Scandalizing the court itself.
- Abusing parties or judges who are concerned in the cause, in the presence of court.
- Prejudicing the public before the cause is heard.
Article 129 of Indian Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to punish for contempt of court along with specific powers given to High Court for the same. Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act says that the maximum punishment for a contempt of court can be six months simple imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs. 2000. In civil matters of contempt, court may detain the offender in a civil prison for at most six months. Top Civil lawyers can help you defending the civil matter.
If the contempt of court referred to therein has been committed by a company with the consent or any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall be deemed to be guilty of contempt of court. Such person can be exempted from liability if they prove that the contempt was committed without their knowledge, with the help of their Top Criminal Lawyers.
An important provision of contempt law is that an accused may be relieved of the punishment upon apologising to the court, unconditionally. Such an apology can not be rejected merely on the ground that it is conditional if the accused provides a reasonable explanation with such condition.
The existing law on contempt in India is debatable since many issues have been left unaddressed to the discretion of the court. On top of it, the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of expression are heavily jeopardised by the law on contempt. An open debate regarding the contradiction between freedom of speech and contempt of court in India has also not been able to find any answers.
To maintain an unblemished image of the judiciary and to preserve public confidence in courts, the law on contempt is enforced. The irony is, judges end up getting denounced for misusing their power to punish for contempt of court to fulfill narcissistic motives rather than to uphold the supremacy of law.
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