Introduction

Contempt of court is a concept that seeks to protect judicial institutions from motivated attacks and unwarranted criticism, and as a legal mechanism to punish those who lower its authority.

Body

The statutory basis for contempt of court

  • Article 129 of the Constitution conferred on the Supreme Court the power to punish contempt of itself.
  • Article 215 conferred a corresponding power on the High Courts.
  • The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gives statutory backing to the idea. This Act defines both civil and criminal contempt.

Issues related to contempt of court

  • Open-Ended Terms: Section 5 of the Act provides that “fair criticism” or “fair comment” on the merits of a finally decided case would not amount to contempt.
  • Violating Principle of Natural Justice: The judges may often be seen to be acting in their cause, thus violating the principles of natural justice and adversely affecting the public confidence they seek to preserve through the proceeding.
  • Article 19:Compromise freedom of speech and expression under Article 19.

What is not contempt of court?

  • Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court.
  • Nor is any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.

Need of contempt of court

  • Aim:The principal aim of the jurisdiction is to protect the dignity of the court and the due administration of justice.
  • No personal interset of judges:The contempt jurisdiction is not intended to uphold the personal dignity of the Judges.
  • Need to be a fair and constructive criticism: Citizens must have some standing or knowledge before challenging the ability, integrity, and impartiality of a Judge of the highest court of the land.

Conclusion

Freedom of speech is the most fundamental of the fundamental rights and the restrictions thereupon have to be minimal. Therefore, rules and guidelines must be framed defining the process that superior courts must employ while taking criminal contempt action, keeping in mind principles of natural justice and fairness.