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Contempt of Court

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HomeBrud.gifLegal TerminologyBrud.gifContempt of Court

Contemner is one who has committed contempt of court.

In some cases, a contempt of court might happen out of ignorance when the contemner has no knowledge as to the meaning of the contempt.

Committed by a person who:

  • Does any act (or omission) in willful contravention of its authority or dignity
  • Tending to impede or frustrate the administration of justice
  • By one who, being under the court's authority as a party to a proceeding therein, willfully disobeys its lawful orders
  • Fails to comply with an undertaking which he has given.
  • Oswald: Bringing the authority and administration of law into disrespect or disregard or to interfere with or prejudice parties, litigation or their witnesses during the litigation.
  • A Commission of Inquiry has no direct powers of Contempt of Court but it can record the facts constituting the offense and can forward the case to the competent Magistrate.

Contempt jurisdiction

Contempt jurisdiction of subordinate courts is controlled by statutes but the contempt jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High Court is based on the provisions of the Constitution and hence it cannot be taken away by statute.

Supreme Court and High Courts have contempt jurisdiction because they are Court of Record. These courts have the power to punish not just of their own contempt but of a subordinate court too.

Contempt Jurisdiction is a special Jurisdiction and hence it needs to be used in exceptional cases.

Contempt Proceedings

Contempt proceedings are neither civil nor criminal. They are sui generis. Such proceedings are not governed by CPC, CrPC or Evidence Act.

In such proceedings, the court and the contemner are the parties.

Types of Contempt

Contempt is of two types:

  • Civil Contempt
  • Criminal Contempt

Civil Contempt

Civil Contempt is the willful disobedience to any judgement, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or a willful breach of an undertaken given to a court.

Criminal Contempt

Criminal Contempt is the publication of any matter or doing any act that results or is likely to result in:

  • Scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of the court
  • Prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of a judicial proceeding
  • Interferes or tends to interferes with or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice

Related Cases / Recent Cases / Case Law

  • Snow v. Hawkes, 183 N.C. 365, 111 S.E. 621, 622, 23 A.L.R. 183.
  • Ex parte Hobrook, 133 Me. 276, 177 A. 418, 420: Any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct court in administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity
  • On January 16, 2012, the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered contempt charges against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case, a corruption amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Gilani has been ordered to personally appear in court to explain why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for deliberately disregarding the court's orders on the reopening of the corruption cases.
  • Supreme Court Bar Association v Union of India, AIR 1998 SC 1895: In exercise of the contempt jurisdiction, the license of an advocate to practice legal profession cannot be suspended or cancelled.
  • Union of India v Prakash P Hinduja and Another, AIR 2003 SC 2612, the Supreme Court of India held that if the Court issues a direction which amounts to legislation and is not complied with by the State, it cannot be held that the State has committed the Contempt of Court for the reason that the order passed by the Court was without jurisdiction and it has no competence to issue a direction amounting to legislation.
  • Sk Mohammedbhikhan Hussainbhai v The Manager Chandrabhanu Cinema, AIR 1986 Guj 209: The Gujarat High Court has taken the view that if the High Court is an appellate court of some authority under a statute, such authority can be deemed to be a subordinate court within the ambit of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and, therefore, the High Court can exercise powers of dealing with contempt of such authority provided the act of contempt was not punishable for offences under Indian Penal Code.

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Related Acts