Contempt of court

  • IASbaba
  • September 6, 2022
  • 0
Indian Polity & Constitution
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In News:  Attorney General of India has declined a request for consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against Senior Advocate and Member of Parliament Kapil Sibal for certain remarks that he made during a speech on the subject of “Judicial Rollback of Civil Liberties.

What is contempt of court?

  • Around the world, “contempt of court”, or simply “contempt”, is understood as a set of legal provisions that firewall courts, and safeguard and protect their ability to dispense justice.
  • According to The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt.
  • Civil contempt means “wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court, or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court”.
  • Criminal contempt, is attracted by “the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
  1. scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
  2. prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
  • interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Who can bring a charge of criminal contempt of court against an individual?

  • The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, lays down the law on contempt of court.
  • Section 15 of the legislation describes the procedure on how a case for contempt of court can be initiated.
  • In the case of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, and in the case of High Courts, the Advocate General, may bring in a motion before the court for initiating a case of criminal contempt.
  • However, the motion can be brought by a private citizen as well — and in such a case, the consent of the Attorney General (or the Advocate General, as the case may be,) is required.
  • The motion or reference made for initiating the case will have to specify the contempt of which the person charged is alleged to be guilty.

But what is the reason that the consent of the A-G is required?

  • The objective behind requiring the consent of the A-G before taking cognizance of a complaint is to save the time of the court.
  • The A-G’s consent is meant to be a safeguard against frivolous petitions, as it is deemed that the A-G, as an officer of the court, will independently ascertain whether the complaint is indeed valid.

What if a court itself decides to bring a case of contempt?

  • In such a situation, the A-G’s consent is not required.
  • This is because the court is exercising its inherent powers under the Constitution to punish for contempt, and such Constitutional powers cannot be restricted because the A-G declined to grant consent.

And what happens if the A-G denies consent (in the case of a private citizen)?

  • If the A-G denies consent, the matter all but ends.
  • The law also has a limitation period of one year for bringing in action against an individual.
  • The complainant can, however, separately bring the issue to the notice of the court and urge the court to take suo motu (on its own motion) cognizance.
  • Article 129 of the Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to initiate contempt cases on its own, independent of the motion brought before it by the AG or with the consent of the AG.

What is the process if the A-G does grant consent?

  • Once the A-G gives his consent in writing, a notice under The Contempt of Courts Act is served personally on the person against whom the proceedings are sought to be initiated by the court.
  • If the court decides not to serve the notice personally, the law requires the court to record the reasons for it.
  • If the court is satisfied that the alleged contemnor is likely to abscond or evade judicial proceedings, it can order attachment of property of a value that it deems reasonable.
  • The alleged contemnor may file an affidavit in support of his defence, explaining the nature and circumstances of his/her remarks.
  • The case is required under the Act to be heard by a Bench of at least two judges.

Source: Indian Express

Previous Year Question

Q.1) Consider the following statements : (2022)

  1. Pursuant to the report of H.N. Sanyal Committee, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 was passed.
  2. The Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and the High Courts to punish for contempt of themselves.
  3. The Constitution of India defines Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt.
  4. In India, the Parliament is vested with the powers to make laws on Contempt of Court.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 1, 2 and 4
  3. 3 and 4 only
  4. 3 only


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