Contempt of court refers to any actions which defy a court’s authority, cast disrespect on a court, or impede the ability of the court to perform its function.
The elements generally needed to establish contempt are:
Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as 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) Scandalises or tends to scandalise, 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.
(a) ‘High Court’ means the high court for a state or a union territory and includes the court of the judicial commissioner in any union territory.
The purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of law. If by contentious words or writings the common man is led to lose his respect for the judiciary, then the confidence reposed in the courts is rudely shaken and the offender needs to be punished. In essence of law of contempt is the protector of the seat of justice more than the person sitting of the judge sitting in that seat.
A third party to the proceeding may be guilty of contempt of court if they have a part to play in the offence.
According to Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 the limitation period for initiating contempt proceedings is of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.
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, 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.
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.
An accused may also 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.
Clause (b) of Section 13 of Contempt of Court Act, 1971 that was introduced recently by 2006 amendment, allows the accused to raise the defence of justification by truth of such contempt, if the court is satisfied that it is in public interest and the request for invoking the said defence 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.