DMPQ- What do you understand by the term contempt of court? Explain different types of contempt.

In India, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, divides contempt into civil contempt and criminal contempt. Civil contempt is when a person wilfully disobeys any order of a court (a recent example of civil contempt would be Sahara Group chief Subratra Roy’s failure to obey an order by the Supreme Court to refund investors from whom two group companies raised money through schemes the market regulator ruled were illegal, prompting the apex court to send him and two board members to judicial custody in March 2014). Criminal contempt is “interfering” with the administration of justice (for instance, interrupting a court hearing by singing obnoxiously), or “scandalizing” the court or “lowering its authority”.

Jayarajan was convicted for scandalizing the court and lowering its authority.  There is a scope of reasonable criticism of judiciary. For example, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, very clearly states that fair criticism of any case which has been heard and decided is not contempt. And as conceded by even the judges who sent Jayarajan to jail:  The problem clearly arises when either the judiciary is criticized or individual judges are publicly questioned on their integrity.

The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 is one of the most powerful statutes in the country. It gives the constitutional courts wide powers to restrict an individual’s fundamental right to personal liberty for “scandalizing the court” or for “willful disobedience” of any judgment, writ, direction or order.  According to Law Commission Report the powers of contempt of the Supreme Court and High Courts are independent of the Act 1971. The contempt powers of the higher courts are drawn from the Constitution itself.

 

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