The LexGaze Weekly - COVER STORY

The fundamental supremacy of law demands the law of Contempt

Ms Prenkesha Menia

Aug 15, 2020

Issue 9

Any act which tends to or has the potential to obstruct, prejudice or abuse the process and course of justice is detrimental to the democratic setup.


The Courts have an inherent power vested in them with origin of vindicating their own authority. It is an essential power of the Courts to issue any legal process for its own contempt. The Rule of Law enshrined under the principles of natural justice is the cornerstone of good governance, owing to which it necessary to have a protective mechanism for the foundational principle of our judicial system. The independence of the judiciary is one of the crucial aspects of rule of law, in furtherance of which the British Crown delegated contempt powers to the justices hearing day to day proceedings on their behalf. Therefore, for the protection of working of the Courts and its administration it is of paramount importance to have some discretionary powers vested in the judges. Though the origin of contempt powers may lie in Britain, owing to great disparities in the two societies, the provision was amended over the years to suit the Indian social setting. In furtherance of the same and in order to have a civilized functioning of the Courts, the Law Commission of India chaired by Justice B.S. Chauhan submitted the report on the Contempt of Courts Act which clearly refers contempt to be an offence of disrespecting the sanctity or authority of a Court, which is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term of up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both under Section 12 of the Act of 1971. By virtue of Contempt of Court legislations, coupled with constitutional provisions serving as the rationale for the same, the Courts have the power to enforce respect and obedience to its mandate. It is through this, that the Court aims to protect its officers and those who are entrusted to work for imparting justice to the society. The very aim behind having this contempt power is to secure and maintain faith, confidence and respect which the public has in the administration of justice because the very act of contempt has the potency to lower the sense of confidence of the people on the administration of justice, paving the way for serious repercussions. Moreover, it affords protection to judges from imputation. For the impartial administration of justice, the Courts are vested with the power to punish anyone who interferes in the process of administration of justice.

The jurisdiction with respect to contempt originated in England. This branch of law emerged in a different manner because of the fact that judges created this contempt jurisdiction & asserted it to be a natural embodiment to their function and work. The origin of the law of Contempt in India can also be traced from the English Law. The law of contempt of court in India is the outcome of the centuries long British administration. The law of contempt works as a mode of enforcing and implementing the orders of the courts. In the democratic setup, all the wings of government are required to perform and furnish their respective duties imposed upon them within their purview for the welfare of the society. The judiciary takes the recourse of contempt jurisdiction against anybody who has caused any kind of interference in the administration of justice. The contempt proceedings act as a weapon against any individual, press or any executive body who has interfered in the working of the court which resulted into contempt. It is pertinent for the Courts to exercise the contempt jurisdiction with utmost care and in the interest of justice.

In contemporary times, the contempt of court works as a reasonable restriction which can be imposed on the freedom of speech specifically envisaged under Part III of the Indian Constitution. In the pretext of freedom of speech and expression, one is barred from disrespecting, disregarding and interfering with whole process of litigation for securing justice. The contempt proceeding is treated to be sui generic in nature and for securing respect for the Law and Courts, the judiciary adopts summary method of proceeding in contempt cases and it used by the courts sparingly for maintaining independence of judiciary. However, in recent times, the contempt powers have repeatedly clashed with freedom of speech and expression, which warrants a reconciliation between the two provisions keeping in mind, neither the independence of judiciary nor freedom of speech can be compromised in an evolving democracy such as ours.

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