Daily News Analysis

CONTEMPT OF COURT

12th October, 2021 Economy

Figure 3:No Copyright Infringement Intended

Context:

  • Attorney-General of India K.K. Venugopal has refused consent to a request made to permit to initiate contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court against the controversial Pegasus software creator and top bureaucrats.

Contempt of Court in India:

  • Supreme court is declared a Court of Record under Article 129. As a court of record, it has all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for its contempt.
  • Under Article 129 and 142 of the constitution of the Supreme Court, it has been vested with power to punish for contempt of court.

Types of Contempt of Court:

  • Contempt can be criminal or civil.
  • Criminal contempt involves an intentional interference with the administration of justice.
  • Civil contempt is disobedience to orders or judgments of the court.
  • Criminal Contempt:
    • Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court;
    • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding;
    • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Contempt of Court Act-1971:

  • Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
  • Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempt of its subordinate courts.
  • Power to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215 is not subject to Article 19(1) (a).
  • A contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term, which may extend to six months, or with fine.

Reason behind its existence:

  • Needed to punish wilful disobedience to court orders (civil contempt),
  • To prevent interference in the administration of justice.
  • To prevent threats to judges.
  • Insulate the institution from unfair attacks.
  • Prevent a sudden fall in the judiciary’s reputation in the public eye.

Needs to reforms:

  • Social Media is full of judiciary criticism. It is not good to waste the time of judiciary in exercising its power to punish for its contempt.
  • England itself abolished the offence of “scandalising the court” in 2013, from where the idea has been borrowed.
  • Contempt of law prevents media from looking at the functioning of judiciary.
  • Definition of criminal contempt in India is extremely wide, and can be easily invoked. 
  • Suomotu powers of the Court to initiate such proceedings only serve to complicate matters. 
  • Criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with the modern democratic system, which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.

Way Forward:

  • It would be a progressive move if the courts itself focus on improving its accountability and transparency, that can result in improving its public image.