Contempt of Courts Act, 1971
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This article is written by Gaurav Raj Grover, a fifth-year law student at Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida. This article discusses the provisions related to the Defamation of Judiciary. 

Introduction

There is a fine line between freedom of speech and expression and defamation. One person has to balance his right to freedom of speech and other person’s right to protect their good name. The process of spreading false statements that can hurt the reputation of someone is known as defamation. Defamation is only applicable when the statement is false, while people spreading mean comments which are correct don’t come under defamation. 

Defamation can be committed in two ways:

  • Libel – Defamation in written form.
  • Slander – Defamation in oral form.

In India, the law of defamation is divided into two types:

  • Civil Defamation – It is covered under the Law of Torts.
  • Criminal Defamation – It is covered under Section 499 & 500 of IPC.

The defamation of the Judiciary is not acceptable in any form. The defamation of the Judiciary is protected by:

  • Criminal Contempt of Court
  • Criminal Defamation

Social Media helped in the rise of defamation as it allows people to instantly publish the statements which are accessible to millions of people. 

Elements of Defamation

  • The Statement – A statement either oral, written, or expressed in any manner is necessary for defamation. 
  • Publication – For a published statement, someone must have read, seen, or heard the defamatory statement. In this scenario, published is not limited to printed statements; the statements which are heard over the phone also come under published statements. 
  • Injury – Injury plays an important role in the process of defamation. The published statement must harm the reputation of the person in the statement. A statement that doesn’t harm the reputation of the person is not considered as defamation. 
  • Falsity – Only false statements are considered as defamations as the statements which are true will be considered as criticism. 
  • Unprivileged – Only those statements which do not fall under the privileged category will be considered as defamatory statements. 

Contempt of Court

The term ‘Contempt of Court’ is defined under Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Anything which hinders the administration of law or interferes with the process of justice is considered as a Contempt of Court. Any event which disrespects the authority or the administration of law qualifies for Contempt of Court. The Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to punish people for their Contempt which was given to them through Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India. The power which helps the High Courts to punish the Contempt of its Subordinate Courts is defined under Sec.10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. 

Ways of Contempt of Court

There are different ways:

  • Disrespecting the Court itself. 
  • Damaging the reputation of the parties related to the case in the presence of the Court. 
  • Influencing the public before jurisdiction.

Essentials of Contempt of Court

The elements which are necessary to establish the contempt are:

  • Establishing a valid court order.
  • Knowledge of the order by the respondent.
  • The ability of the respondent to render compliance. 
  • Willful disobedience of the order. 

Types of Contempt of Court

There are mainly two types of Contempt of Court in India:

Civil Contempt

Civil Contempt of Court is described under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which is considered as wilful disobedience to any decree, judgment, writ or any process of a court or any willful infringement of an undertaking given to the Court. So, civil contempt refers to all those actions which defy the Court’s authority or hinders the Court to perform its function. 

Punishment of Civil Contempt tries to:

  • The main aim in the cases of civil Contempt is to restore the rights of the parties which are violated because of the failure in satisfying the Court’s order. 
  • Start a new proceeding beneath. 

Civil Contempts are majorly finished when the party accepts the Court’s order or when the different case is finished. 

Criminal Contempt

Criminal Contempt is defined under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. It is considered as any publication like oral, written, visible representation, signs, or in any other way, tries to:

  • Any act or event which degrades to tries to degrade the authority of courts. 
  • Any act or event which scrutinizes or tries to scrutinize the due course of any judicial proceedings. 
  • Any act or event which interferes or tries to interfere with the administration of Justice.

The Contempt law is used to maintain the dignity of the Courts as the Courts play an important role in the lives of citizens of India. It helps in improving the respect of the Court in the eyes of the public and prevent people from damaging the reputation of the Court. So, any person who publishes any statement oral or written, which encourages in violating the administration of justice or degrades the authority of Court will be considered as a Criminal Contempt of Court. So basically, this law tries to protect the dignity of the Judiciary, the Courts and the Judicial Process. 

Criminal Contempt can occur through both civil and criminal cases because it is generally considered as disrespect of the Court. So, the criminal contempt punishes all the actions which try to violate the Court’s rule — for example, deliberately using cell phones inside the courtroom with the intention to disrupt the administration of justice. In this situation, the Judge can hold the person liable for Contempt of Court. Hence, all the actions which violate the order of the Court or disrespects the authority of the Court are considered as the Criminal Contempt of Court.

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Relief

There are certain ways through which an individual can apply for relief from a Judge’s order of Criminal Contempt:

  • By following the Court’s original order.
  • By filing a motion to reconsider.
  • By filing a writ of habeas corpus. 

This writ basically tries to prove that the defendant is excessively punished or was punished without even a good cause. The proceedings of criminal contempt are public hearings that can be attended by anyone. Also, some states even provide an attorney to the people who are dealing with contempt charges. 

The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971

The law of Contempt in India was adopted from English Law. The Judicial Committee of the privy council recognized this offence of Contempt of Court and gave power to the High Courts to punish this offense. The first law related to Contempt was passed through the Contempt of Courts Act of 1926. This Act gave power to the Courts to take action against the Contempt of Court. 

The Contempt of Courts Act of 1926 was further replaced by the Contempt of Court Act of 1952. This Act included all states like Madhya Bharat, Mysore, and many more. It was further amended by a bill passed by Lok Sabha in 1960. The bill was further examined by the democrats, who concluded this bill as undefined, unsatisfactory and uncertain. 

After so many attempts and different members of the committee completed the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, which was passed by the Parliament in the fall of 1971 and came into force on 24th December 1971. Further, there were some changes made in the Act through the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Act, 1971. 

Limitations of the Contempt of Court

There are many situations in which the actions feel like Contempt of Court, but they are not. They are:

Innocent Publication and Distribution of Matter

In those situations where an individual published something which scrutinizes or tries to scrutinize the order of justice related to any civil or criminal proceeding which is pending for publication at that time, and the person must not know that the proceeding was pending. In this situation, the person is not liable for Contempt of Court. 

All the publications related to any civil or criminal proceedings which are not pending at the time of publication are not considered as a Contempt of Court.

In a situation, where a person distributes such publications where he is not aware that it contains such material will not be considered as guilty of Contempt of Court.

Sub-Section

  1. Any publication which is a book or paper printed or published otherwise than in conformity with the rules contained in Section 3 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.
  2. Any publication which is a newspaper published otherwise than in conformity with the rules contained in Section 5 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.

Essentials 

There are certain necessary conditions for this limitation.

  • The Judicial Proceeding must be pending.
  • In the case of Civil Proceeding, the complaint must be filed.
  • In the case of Criminal Proceeding:
  • Charge Sheet or challan must be filed.
  • The Court must issue a summons or warrant. 
  • When the Court knows the matter of the proceedings. 
  • When the final decision is pending because of a lack of facts. 

Fair and Accurate Report of Judicial Proceedings

In the present situation of our country, fair and accurate reports of the judicial proceedings are essential as it plays an important role in the healthy administration of justice. Day-to-day proceedings are very necessary for the citizens of the country as the people are dependent on the Courts for justice. But accurate reports are also necessary. So, Section 7 of the Act allows fair and accurate report of judicial proceedings, and no person shall be considered guilty of Contempt of Court for providing fair and accurate reports of judicial proceedings. 

Fair Criticism of Judicial Decisions

Constructive or fair criticism is very necessary for a country like India as it only tries to improve the judgment or help them to understand the situation or what the citizens as a whole desire. Therefore, in the situations of constructive criticism, the person will not be considered guilty of Contempt of Court. 

Complaint against Presiding Officers

In the situations where any person complaints against the presiding officer or any subordinate court in front of higher authority are not liable for Contempt of Court. Hence, this Act provides immunity to the people who complain in good faith to the High Court about  its subordinate Court.

Punishment

The punishment is given under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. 

  • The basic punishment of Contempt of Court is imprisonment for a term of six months or a fine of Rs. 2000, or both. In this situation, the accused can help himself by providing an apology in front of the Court. The Court can accept the statement and waive off the punishment, but it totally depends on the Court. But the Court can not reject the apology on no grounds. 
  • No Court has the power to give punishment more than the limit specified by the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. 
  • In a situation where a person is found guilty of Civil Contempt of Court and the Court thinks that only  fine is not sufficient for justice, the Court can detain the person in civil prison for a period maximum of six months. 
  • In the situation where a company is considered guilty of Contempt of Court, then in this situation, all the people who were present at the time when the Contempt was committed will be considered responsible. So, every responsible person of Contempt will complete detention in civil prison. But knowledge of Contempt is essential in a situation like these. If the person didn’t have any knowledge about the Contempt, will not be considered as guilty of Contempt of Court. 
  • In the situation where a company commits a Contempt of Court with the consent of its director, then in this case, the director of the company will be considered liable for Contempt of Court and have to serve detention in a civil prison. 

Conclusion

So, defaming the Judiciary is an offense under the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. And no court has the power to start the motion of Contempt of Court after a period of one year from the date of Contempt. While freedom of speech and expression and right to personal liberty are important but the faith in the Judiciary and respect of the Judiciary are also important. 


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