Contempt of Courts in India

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The origin of the law of Contempt in India can be traced from the English law. In England Superior Courts of record have formed early times, exercised the power to commit for contempt persons who scandalized the Court or the Judges. The right of the Indian High Courts to punish for contempt was in the first instance recognized by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which observed that the offence of the contempt of court and the powers of the High Courts to punish it are the same in such courts as in the Supreme Court in England. It also observed that the three chartered contempt. Almost all the High Courts in India, apart from the chartered High Courts have exercised the jurisdiction inherent in a court of record from the very nature of the court itself. It has been judicially accepted throughout India that the jurisdiction was a special one inherent in the very nature of the court.

The first Indian statue on the law of contempt i.e., the Contempt of Courts Act was passed in 1926. It was enacted to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts. When the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 (XII of 1926) was in existence in British India, various Indian States also had their corresponding enactment. These States were Hyderabad, Madhya Bharat, Mysore, Pepsu, Rajasthan, Travancore-Cochin, and Saurashtra. State enactments of the Indian States and the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 were replaced by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 (32 of 1952).

An attempt was made in April, 1960 to introduce in the Lok Sabha a Bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to Contempt of Courts. On an examination of the Bill, government appears to have felt that the law relating to Contempt of Courts in uncertain, undefined and unsatisfactory and that in the light of the constitutional changes which have taken place in the country, it would be advisable to have the entire law on the subject scrutinized by a Special Committee set up for the purpose. In pursuance, to that decision, a Committee was set up on 29th July, 1961 and it submitted its report on 28th February,1963 to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts and to regulate their procedure in relation thereto.

Joint Select Committee of Parliament on Contempt of Courts went in detail and a new Bill, The Contempt of Courts Bill, 1968 was prepared by the Joint Select Committee.[1]

What is Contempt?

Contempt of court often referred to simply as “contempt“, is the offence of being disobedient to or discourteous towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.[2] It manifests itself in willful disregard of or disrespect for the authority of a court of law, which is often behavior that is illegal because it does not obey or respect the rules of a law court.[3]

Under Section 2 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971,

(a) “Contempt of court” means civil contempt or criminal contempt”

(b) “Civil contempt” means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or another process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

(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) Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, 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.

Punishment for the contempt of court

High Court and Supreme Court are bestowed with the power to punish for the contempt of the court.

Under Section 12 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971[4], a contempt of court can be 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, in civil cases, if the court considers that a fine will not meet the ends of justice and that a sentence of imprisonment is necessary shall, instead of sentencing him to simple imprisonment, direct that he be detained in a civil prison for such period not exceeding six months as it may think fit.

The court is not supposed to impose a sentence for contempt of court in excess of what is prescribed under this section either in respect of itself or of a court subordinate to it.
An accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made by the accused to the satisfaction of the court. An apology is not supposed to be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or conditional if the accused makes it bona fide.

Contempt of court by a company[5]

In case the person found guilty of contempt of court in respect of any undertaking given to a court is a company, the person who at that time, was in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of business of the company shall be deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be enforced, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of such person.

However, that person can be exempted from liability if such person proves that the contempt was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent its commission.

Liability of Director, Manager, Secretary or another officer of the company
If the contempt of court referred to therein has been committed by a company and it is provided that the contempt has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of the be contempt and the punishment will be enforced against them as well, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of such director, manager, secretary or other officer.

Defenses allowed in Contempt proceeding

Clause (b) of Section 13 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971 that was introduced recently by 2006 amendment, allows the accused to raise the defense of justification by the truth of such contempt if the court is satisfied that it is in the public interest and the request for invoking the said defense is bona fide.

However, no court shall impose a sentence under this Act for a contempt of court unless it is satisfied that the contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes, or tends substantially to interfere with the due course of justice.

Rules To Regulate Proceedings For Contempt Of Supreme Court, 1975[6]

GSR 142- In exercise of the powers under section 23 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 read with article 145 of the Constitution of India and all other powers enabling it in this behalf, the Supreme Court hereby makes, with the approval of the President, the following rules: –

  1. (1) These Rules may be called the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975.

(2) They shall come into force on the date of their publication in the Official Gazette.1


  1. (1) Where contempt is committed in view or presence or hearing of the Court, the contemnor may be punished by the Court of which it is committed either forthwith or on such date as may be appointed by the Court in that behalf.

(2) Pending the determination of the charge, the Court may direct that the contemner shall be detained in such custody as it may specify:

PROVIDED that the contemnor may release on bail on such terms as the Court may direct.


  1. In case of contempt other than the contempt referred to in rule 2, the Court may take action:

(a) suo motu, or

(b) on a petition made by Attorney General, or Solicitor General, or

(c) on a petition made by any person, and in the case of a criminal contempt with the consent in writing of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General.

  1. (a) Every petition under rule 3(b) or (c) shall contain:-

(i) the name, description, and place of residence of the petitioner or petitioners and of the persons charged;

(ii) nature of the contempt alleged, and such material facts, including the date or dates of commission of the alleged contempt, as may be necessary for the proper determination of the case;

(iii) if a petition has previously been made by him on the same facts, the petitioner shall give the details of the petition previously made and shall also indicate the result thereof;

(b) The petition shall be supported by an affidavit.

(c) Whether the petitioner relies upon a document or documents in his possession or power, he shall file such document or documents or true copies thereof with the petition.

(d) No court fee shall be payable on the petition, and on any documents filed in the proceedings.

  1. Every petition under rule 3(b) and (c) shall be posted before the Court for a preliminary hearing and for orders as to issue of notice. Upon such hearing, the Court is satisfied that no prima facie case has been made out for the issue of notice, may dismiss the petition, and, if not so satisfied direct that notice of the petition is issued to the contemner.
  2. (1) Notice to the person charged shall be in Form I. The person charged shall, unless otherwise ordered, appear in person before the Court as directed on the date fixed for hearing of the proceeding, and shall continue to remain present during hearing till the proceeding is finally disposed of by order of the Court.

(2) When the action is instituted on petition, a copy of the petition along with the annexure and affidavits shall be served upon the person charged.

  1. The person charged may file his reply duly supported by an affidavit or affidavits.
  2. No further affidavit or document shall be filed except with the leave of the Court.
  3. Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, seven copies of the Paper Book shall be prepared in the Registry, one for the petitioner, one for the opposite party and the remaining for the use of the Court. The Paper Book in the case shall be prepared at the expense of the Central Government and shall consist of the following documents:-

(i) Petition and affidavits filed by the petitioner.

(ii) A copy of, or a statement relating to, the objectionable matter constituting the alleged contempt.

(iii) Reply and affidavit of the opposite party.

(iv) Documents filed by the parties.

(v) Any other document which the Registrar may deem fit to include.

  1. The Court may direct the Attorney–General or Solicitor-General to appear and assist the Court.
  2. (1) The Court may, if it has reason to believe, that the person charged is absconding or is otherwise evading service of notice, or if he fails to appear in person or to continue to remain present in person in pursuance of the notice, direct a warrant bailable or non-bailable for his arrest, addressed to one or more police officers or may order attachment of property. The warrant shall be issued under the signature of the Registrar. The warrant shall be in Form II and shall be executed, as far as may be in the manner provided for execution of warrants under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

(2) The warrant shall be executed by the officer or officers to whom it is directed, and may also be executed by any other police officer whose name is endorsed upon the warrant by whom it is directed or endorsed.

(3) Where a warrant is to be executed outside the Union Territory of Delhi, the Court may instead of directing such warrant to a police officer, forward it to the Magistrate of the District or the Superintendent of Police or Commissioner of Police of the district within which the person charged is believed to be residing. The Magistrate or the police officer to whom the warrant is forwarded shall endorse his name thereon, and cause it to be executed.

(4) Every person who is arrested and detained shall be produced before the nearest Magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the Court of the Magistrate, and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a Magistrate.

  1. The Court may, either suo motu, or on motion made for that purpose, order the attendance for cross-examination, of a person whose affidavit has been filed in the matter.
  2. The Court may make orders for the purpose of securing the attendance of any person to be examined as a witness and for the discovery of the production of any document.
  3. The Court may pass such orders as it thinks fit including orders as to costs which may be recovered as if the order were a decree of the Court.
  4. Save as otherwise provided by the rules contained herein, the provisions of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966, shall, so far as may be, apply to proceedings in relation to proceedings in contempt under this part.
  5. Where a person charged with contempt is adjudged guilty and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment, a warrant of commitment and detention shall be made out in Form IV under the signature of the Registrar. Every such warrant shall remain in force until it is cancelled by order of the Court or until is executed. The Superintendent of the Jail shall in pursuance of the order receive the person so adjudged and detain him in custody for the period specified therein, or until further orders.


A case of contempt is C.K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta[7] the respondent published and circulated a booklet in public purporting to ascribe bias and dishonesty to Justice Shah while acting in his judicial capacity. Mr. C.K. Daphtary, along with others, filed a petition alleging that the booklet has scandalized the judges who participated in the decision and brought into contempt the authority of the highest court of the land and thus weakened the confidence of the people in it. The Supreme Court, in examining the scope of the contempt of court, laid down that the test in each case is whether the impugned publication is a mere defamatory attack on the judge or whether it will interfere with the due course of justice or the proper administration of law by the court.

The recent Judgment of a two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in State of Bihar v. Kripalu Shankar[8] is disturbing. It attenuates the Court’s own power to punish for contempt by permitting government officials to make notings on files which “might even be unsavory or even derogatory to an order of the Court” in the interest of “Mutual respect among the various units of the Administration in the process of disposal of justice”. It also enlarges the area of privilege in respect of governmental files after expressing doubts about the correctness of the decision of the seven-Judge Bench in the case of S.P.Gupta v. Union of India[9] In the process, it lays down propositions which are wide and doubtful.


The Contempt of Court is a legal offence and is punishable under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972. It is punishable by the High Court and Supreme Court and the jurisdiction to punish for contempt touches upon two important fundamental rights of the citizens, namely, the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of expression. Supreme Court has laid down the rules for that and we have a bunch of provisions under the ACT to tackle the contempt of court.



[2] “contempt: definition of contempt in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)”. 2014-08-05. Retrieved 2014-08-13.





[7] (1971) 1 SCC 626

[8] (1987) 3 SCC 34

[9] 1981 Supp SCC 87

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