Tuesday, 5 August 2014

What is contempt of court

Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, defines criminal contempt as:
“(c) criminal contempt means 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 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;

Under this provision, there are have been largely two different kinds of cases in which journalists have faced criminal contempt charges -  firstly, when there is an article which scandalizes or tends to scandalize or lower the dignity of the judiciary.
This would include comments or remarks on judges or the functionary of the judiciary etc. Secondly, when there are reports on pending litigation which could prejudice the outcome of the trial. 

 Contempt of Court Act states that contempt can be of two types: civil or criminal.
 Contempt of Court can be a civil as well as a criminal offence under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. 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 publication of may matter or may other act which lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court or interferes or tends to interfere in the judicial proceedings or administration of justice.
The punishment for contempt. It states that the offender maybe 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. However, the accused maybe discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court. Further, where a person is guilty of civil contempt and the Court feels that the imposition of fine is not enough, the person can be detained in civil prison for a maximum period of six months.
The different situations where One  can be charged with contempt of court
 A person can be charged with Contempt of Court under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 Contempt  can be either civil or criminal. 

The following acts of conduct have been held to be contempt of court according to established case laws:
  • Flinging of shoes on the judge
  • Slapping a lawyer in the premises of the Court
  • Undermining the judicial system through pleadings given in the Court
  • Making personal attacks on a judge through publications
The personal behaviour of the judge is criticised and it does not affect the judicial system in any manner then the Contempt of Court is not attracted. The judge may sue you for defamation but no action for arises for contempt. 
  The following four cases such publication can lead to contempt.
  1. Where it is against any law for the time being in force.
  2. Where the Court expressly prohibits on the ground of public policy.
  3. Where the matter is connected with the public order or the security of the State.
  4. Where the information relates to a secret process, discovery or invention.
The journalists have a right to publish fair and accurate proceedings of an in camera trial also. However, if such publication comes within the restrictions stated under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 then they can be prosecuted for contempt of court.

II. Case Law decided by the Supreme Court of India
1. Perspective Publications vs. State Of Maharashtra 1971 AIR SC 221
Facts: There was an article that was published which contained several insinuations that a recent judgment delivered by one of the Judges, was influenced by the fact that the Judge’s brother was paid a loan of Rs 10 lakh by one of the parties.
Held: The Editor and Publisher were found guilty of contempt and a fine of Rs 1000/- along with simple imprisonment of one month was imposed on them.

Source: source