CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971
THE CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971
[70 of 1971, 24-12-1971]
An Act to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempts of courts and to regulate their procedure in relation thereto
Be it enacted by Parliament in the Twenty-second Year of the Republic of India as follows:
1. Short title and extent
(1) This Act may be called the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
(2) It extends to the whole of India:
PROVIDED that it shall not apply to the State of Jammu and Kashmir except to the extent to which the provisions of this Act relate to contempt of the Supreme Court.
In this Act,, unless the context otherwise requires—
(a) “contempt of court” means civil contempt or criminal contempt;
(b) “civil contempt” means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court;
(c) “criminal contempt” means 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) scandalizes, or tends to scandalize, 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;
(d) “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 civil court while executing a decree against a judgment debtor is not concerned and bothered whether the disobedience to any judgment and decree is willful. Once a decree has been passed it is the duty of the court to execute whatever may be the consequence thereof. But while examining the grievance of the person who has involved the jurisdiction of the court to initiate a proceeding for contempt for disobedience of its order, before such contemner is held guilty and punished, the court has to record a finding that such disobedience was willful and intentional.—Niaz Mohammad v. State of Haryana 1994 (6) SCC 332
The court must always be zealous in preserving its authority and dignity but at the same time it will be inadvisable to require compliance of an order impossible of compliance at the instance of the person proceeded against for contempt.—M.I. Khanday v. A.M. Rather 1994 (4) SCC 34
In a government of laws and not of men the executive branch of government bears a grave responsibility for upholding and obeying judicial order.—Mohd. Aslam v. UOI 1994 (6) SCC 442
Where an undertaking is given by a party and accepted by the court and order passed on the basis of such undertaking, the order in substance amounts to an injunction restraining the party from acting in breach thereof.—Noorali v. KMM Shetty AIR 1990 SC 464.
Where there is willful breach of undertaking the court has not only the power but in appropriate cases, the duty to enforce obedience to the terms of the undertaking given to it.—Kanta Gupta v. VIII Additional District Judge Supp 1 SCC 219
Where a case of willful disobedience is made out the court will not hesitate and will convict the delinquent officer and so lenience in the attitude of the court should be expected from the court as a matter of cause merely on the ground that an order of conviction would damage the service career of the concerned officer.—Tapan Kumar Mukherjee v. Heromani Mondal AIR 1991 SC 281
Unless it is shown that the order of the court about which non compliance is complained is without jurisdiction or void ab initio the parties to the order are bound to comply with it even though it may be illegal.—S.M. Kawale v. State of Maharashtra 1994 CrLJ 735
No court including the court of contempt is entitled go take frivolities and trivialities into account while finding fault with the conduct of the person against whom contempt proceeding is taken.-S. Mukhopadhay v. T.D. Karam Chandani 1995 (75) ELT 39
Liberty of free expression is not to be conferred with a licence to make unfounded, unwarranted and irresponsible aspersions against the judges or the courts in relation to judicial matters.—In re Roshan Lal Ahuja 1993 Supp 446
If freedom of expression sub serves public interest cannot gag it or manacle it; but if the court considered the attack on the Judge or judges successions, offensive, intimidatory or malicious, beyond condonable limits, the strong arm of the law must strike a blow on him who challenges the supremacy of the rule of law by fouling its source and stream.—C. Ranichandran lyer v. Justice A.M. Bhattchargee 1995 (5) SCC 457
Making wild allegations of corruption against the presiding officer amounts to scandalizing the court. Imputation of motives of corruption to the judicial officer/authority by any person or group of persons is a serious inroad into the efficacy of judicial process and threat to judicial independence and needs to be dealt with the strong arm of law.—U.P. Sales Tax Service Association v. Taxation Bar Association 1995 (5) SCC 716
The fact that the order appointing the receiver is improperly procured is no justification for interfering with him since the validity can be challenged by application to the court.—In re Mukunda Chandra Halder 1994 CrLJ (NOC) 189
Contempt is essentially a matter for the court concerned. Such a jurisdiction is vested in the court in order that the majesty of law can be upheld. If any interference is made or sought to be made in the course of justice, the court must take serious view of the same.—Rakesh Kaul v. Registrar, High Court of J&K 1994 (5) SCC 759
Anyone who makes or attempts to impede or undermine or obstruct the free flow of the unsoiled stream of justice by resorting to the filing of false evidence, commits criminal contempt of court and renders himself liable to be dealt with in accordance with the Act. Filing of false affidavits or making a false statement on oath in courts aim at striking a blow at the rule of law and no court can ignore such conduct which has the tendency to shake public confidence in the judicial institutions because the very structure of an ordered life is put at steak.—Dhanjay Sharma v. State or Haryana 1995 (3) SCC 757
3. Innocent publication and distribution of matter not contempt
(1) A person shall not be guilty of contempt of court on the ground that he has published (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) any matter which interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs, ot tends to obstruct, the course of justice in connection with any civil or criminal proceeding pending at that time of publication, if at that time he had no reasonable grounds for believing that the proceeding was pending.
(2) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, the publication of any such matter as is mentioned in sub-section (1) in connection with any civil or criminal proceeding which is not pending at the time of publication shall not be deemed to constitute contempt of court.
(3) A person shall not be guilty of contempt of court on the ground that he has distributed a publication containing any such matter as is mentioned in sub-section (1), if at the time of distribution he had no reasonable grounds for believing that it contained or was likely to contain any such matter as aforesaid:
PROVIDED that this sub-section shall not apply in respect of the distribution of—
(i) any publication which is a book or paper printed or published otherwise than in conformity with the rules contained in section 3 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, (25 of 1867);
(ii) any publication which is a newspaper published otherwise than in conformity with the rules contained in section 5 of the said Act.
Explanation: For the purposes of this section, a judicial proceeding—
(b) is said to be pending—
i. in the case of a civil proceeding, when it is instituted by the filing of a plaint or otherwise,
ii. in the case of a criminal proceeding under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (5 of 1898)¹(see Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973), or any other law—
(a) where it relates to the commission of an offence, when the charge sheet or challan is filed, or when the court issues summons or warrant, as the case may be, against the accused, and
(b) in any other case, when the court takes cognizance of the matter to which the proceeding relates, and n the case of a civil or criminal proceeding, shall be deemed to continue to be pending until it is heard and finally decided, that is to say, in a case where an appeal or revision is competent, until the appeal or revision is heard and finally decided or, where no appeal or revision has expired:
(c) which has been heard and finally decided shall not be deemed to be pending merely by reason of the fact that proceedings for the execution of the decree, order or sentence passed therein are pending.
Sec. 3 is in nature of an exception to the categories of “criminal contempt” which fall under sub-clause (ii) and to certain categories of “criminal contempt” which fall under sub-clause (iii) of s. 2(c) but not to that category of contempt which falls under sub-clause (i) of s. 2 (c).—Rachpudi S. Rao v. Advocate General AIR 1981 SC 755
It depends upon the subjective state of mind of not knowing of pendency and the objecting demonstration by the person concerned that he had no reasonable grounds for believing that any such proceeding was pending.—Pending v. Standard Trimbak Yardi 1975 CrLJ 531
4. Fair and accurate report of Judicial proceeding not contempt
Subject to the provisions contained in section 7, a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing a fair and accurate report of a judicial proceeding or any stage thereof.
Reading s. 4 with the provision of s. 7 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, it is clear that what is meant by the words “judicial proceedings” is day to day proceeding of the court. Assuming though not granting that it is capable of a wideraconstruction, it only permits a publication of “fair and accurate” report of a judicial proceeding.—Subash Chandra v. S.M. Agarwal 1984 CrLJ 481
Before a party to a litigation may be heard in support of its case, it must punge itself of the contempt that tends to impede the course of justice by the contempt that has to be punged should be an admitted or proved contempt and not merely an alleged contempt.—Arun Tandon v. Insurance Co. Ltd. 1983 Cr.LJ 459
5. Fair criticism of judicial act not contempt
A person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing any fair comment on the merits of any case which has been heard and finally decided.
Judges and courts are not unduly sensitive or touchy to fair and reasonable criticism of their judgments fair comments even if outspoken but made without maturity or attempting to impair the administration of justice and made in good faith in proper language do not attract any punishment for contempt of court.—In re Roshan Lal Ahuja 1993 Supp 4 SCC 446
In a democracy fair criticism of the working of all the organs of State should be welcome and would in fact promote the interests of democratic functioning. Sec. 5 of the Act evidently enacted with a view to secure the right of fair criticism provides that a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing any fair comment on the merits of the case which has been heard and finally decided. This does not mean that the right to commit for any contempt by scandalizing the court has become obsolete. The question would still be whether the publication alleged to be offending is by way of fair comment on the merits of the case.—Vincent Panikulangara v. Gopal Kurup 1982 CrLJ 2094
In the case of issuance of mere notice of contempt, the right of hearing cannot be denied. Refusing a right of hearing to a party against whom merely a notice for contempt has been issued is fraught with grave injstice.—Arun Tendan v. Insurance Co. Ltd. 1983 Cr LJ 459
6. Complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts when not contempt
A person shall not be guilty of contempt of court in respect of any statement made by him in good faith concerning the presiding officer of any subordinate court to—
(a) any other subordinate court, or
(b) the High Court,
to which it is subordinate.
Explanation: In this section, “subordinate court” means any court subordinate to a High Court.
Unwarranted and defamatory attack upon the character and ability of the Judge made by the counsel in the application of transfer of proceedings from the said court does not constitute a mere complaint under s. 6 of the Contempt of Court Act, but clearly constitutes criminal contempt by scandalizing the court within the meaning of s. 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.—State of M.P. v. Chandrakant Saraf 1985 CrLJ 1716
7. Publication of information relating to proceeding in chambers or in camera not contempt except in certain cases
(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing a fair and accurate report of a judicial proceeding before any court sitting in chambers or in camera except in the following cases, that is to say--
(a) where the publication is contrary to the provisions of any enactment for the time being in force;
(b) where the court, on ground of public policy or in exercise of any power vested in it, expressly prohibits the publication of all information relating to the proceeding or of information of the description which is published;
(c) where the court sits in chambers on in camera for reason connected with public order or the security of the State, the publication of information relating to those proceedings;
(d) where the information relates to a secret process, discovery or invention which is an issue in proceedings.
(2) Without prejudice to the provisions contained in sub-section (1), a person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing the text or a fair and accurate summary of the whole or any part, of an order made by a court sitting in chambers or in camera, unless the court has expressly prohibited the publication thereof on grounds of public policy, or for reasons connected with public order or the security of the State, or on the ground that it contains information relating to a secret process, discovery or invention, or in exercise of any power vested in it.
The press reporter and the publisher of newspapers do not have any indefeasible right to put his own gloss on the statements in court by selecting stray passages out of context which might have a tendency to convey to the reader to the prejudice of a party to the proceedings a cause different from what would appear when the statement is read in its own context.—Progressive Port and Dock Workers Union v. K.M. Mathew 1984 CrLJ 1061
8. Other defences not affected
Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed as implying that any other defence which would have been a valid defence in any proceedings for contempt of court has ceased to be available merely by reason of the provisions of this Act.
If there is specific time limit in the direction, such non compliance cannot be regarded as willful or deliberate disregard of such direction.—Atmaram Kanosir v. L.K.R. Prasad 1990 Cr LJ 169
The power to inflict punishment for contempt of court cannot be invalidated on the ground that law which does not allow plea of truth as a defence is in contravention of Act. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution—V.M. Kanade v. Madhav Godkari 1990 Cr. LJ 190
While ss. 3 to 7 mentions special acts that are not contempt, s. 8 by implication indicated that the Act is not exhausted as to what is not contempt.—High Court v. T.K. Subamma 1990 Cr LJ 1159
An intention to interfere with the administration of justice is not an essential ingredient to the offence of contempt of court. It is enough if the action complained of is inherently likely so to interfere.—Pritam Pal v. High Court M.P. AIR 1992 SC 904
Truth of the allegation when the contemner says that he can prove, cannot be put up as a defence in charge for contempt of court.—V.M. Kande v. Madhav Gadkari 1990 CrLJ 190
9. Act not to imply enlargement of scope of contempt
Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed as implying that any disobedience, breach, publication or other act is punishable as contempt of court which would not be punishable apart from this Act.
What s. 9 contemplates is that an act or action which was not contempt of court before the Act came into force shall not be punishable as contempt of court under the Act.—Harish Chandra Mishra v. Justice S. Ali Ahmed AIR 1986 Pat 65
Sec. 9 makes is absolutely clear that it is only such disobedience that is made punishable as contempt of court which is made specifically punishable under the Act. There is no provision in the Act like s. 34 or s. 114 of the Indian Penal Code with the aid of which aiding or abetting can be punished.—Sham Kant v. Dayana Bai 1989 Cr LJ 2431
10. Power of High Court to punish contempts of subordinate courts
Every High Court shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority, in accordance with the same procedure and practice, in respect of contempts of courts subordinate to it as it has and exercises in respect of contempts of itself:
PROVIDED that no High Court shall take cognizance of a contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate to it where such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
Where the misconduct complained of falls under Contempt of Courts Act as well as Penal Code, independent of each other, the accused can be punished for contempt even if he has once bee punished under s. 228 of the Penal Code for the act committed by him, and the principle of double jeopardy is in applicable in the case.—Court on its own motion v. Milkhi Ram 1992 Cr LJ 2130
Power to punish the contemner for itself which is inherent in the court of reward includes power to dismiss the case for contempt. When it has power to dismiss on merit it has the power to dismiss for default. Equally as an adjunct or incidental thereto, it has also inherent power to restore the application dismissed for default.—D. V.K. Kesva Raju v. S.R. Govinda 1990 Cr LJ 299
The corporate veil is being blatantly used as a clock is willfully disobey the orders of the court.Lifting the corporate veil is imperative to punish improper conduct. It is the requirement of public interest that the corporate veil must be lifted to find out the person who disobeyed the order of the court.—yoti Ltd. V. K.K. Bhasin 1987 Cr LJ 1281
11. Power of High Court to try offences committed or offenders found outside jurisdiction
A High Court shall have jurisdiction to inquire into or try a contempt of itself or of any court subordinate to it, whether the contempt is alleged to have been committed within or outside the local limits of its jurisdiction, and whether the person alleged to be guilty of contempt is within or outside such limits.
It is of utmost importance that there has to be a specific order of restraint against a person from indulging in a particular type of activity, the violation of which can make him liable for contempt. Where there is no prayer made for restraining the defendant from doing a particular act, mere status quo will not include such act and one will not be guilty of contempt.—S. Anand Deep Singh v. Ranjit Kumar 1991 Cr LJ 996
12. Punishment for contempt of court
(1) Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act or in any other law, a contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with find which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both:
PROVIDED that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.
Explanation: An apology shall not be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or conditional if the accused makes it bona fide.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, no court shall impose a sentence in excess of that specified in sub-section (1) for any contempt either in respect of itself or of a court subordinate to it.
(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, where a person is found guilty of a civil contempt, the court, if it 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 be think fit.
(4) Where the person found guilty of contempt of court in respect of any undertaking given to a court is a company, every person who, at the time the contempt was committed, was in charge of, and was responsible to the company for the conduct of business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be enforced, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of each such person:
PROVIDED that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to such punishment if he proves that the contempt was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent its commission.
(5) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (4), where the contempt of court referred to therein has been committed by a company and it is proved that the contempt has been committed with the consent or connivance, of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be enforced, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil prison of such director, manager, secretary or other officer.
Explanation: For the purpose of such-sections (4) and (5)—
(a) “company” means any body corporate and includes a firm or other association of individuals; and
(b) “director’, in relation to a firm, means partner in the firm
Those who have to discharge duty in a court of justice are protected by the law are shielded in the discharge of their duties, any deliberate interference in the discharge of such duties either in court or outside the court by attacking the presiding officer of the court would amount to criminal contempt and the court must take serious cognizance of such conduct.—Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat AIR 1991 SC 2176
In a case where a senior IAS officer after having been found guilty of contempt for deliberately not implementing the order of the Supreme Court was sentenced to simple imprisonment for a period of one month, the court observed that, if the order of even the highest court of the land is allowed to be willfully disobeyed and a person found guilty of contempt is let off by remitting the sentence on plea of mercy, that would send wrong signals to everybody in the country.—J Vasudavan v. T.R. Dhananjaya 1995 (6) SCC 249
The contemner cannot be let off or an apology which is far from sincere, hollow no remorse, no regret, and merely a device to escape the rigour of the law.—M.B. Sanghi v. High Court of P&H AIR 1981 SC 1834
An apology is not a weapon of the defence forged to purge the guilt of the offences nor is it intended to operate as panacea. It is intended to be evidence of real contriteness, the manly consciousness of a wrong done, if an injury inflicted and the earnest desire to make such separation as lies in the wrongdoer’s power.—DDA v. Skipper Construction 1995 (3) SCC 507
It is essential to take strong measures to see that justice becomes available to all, who would not get it if lawful orders of competent courts are violated which would result in people with muscle and money power alone being able to settle score on streets.—State of Orissa v. Bisaya Mohanty 1993 Cr LJ 3311
In the instant case the court held the contemner, Shri Vinay Chandra Mishra guilty of the offence of the criminal contempt of the court for having interfered with and obstructed the course of justice by trying to threaten, over awe and overbear the court by using insulting disrespectful and threatening language and committed him of the said offence. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Act 129 is sui generis. The jurisdiction to take cognizance by any statute. Neither the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 nor the Advocates Act, 1961, can be preserved into service to restrict the said jurisdiction.—Ir re Vinayachandra Mishra 1995 (2) SCC 584
Where the allegation is one of the disobedience of the order of the court where it is not possible to attribute definite knowledge of order of the court to party proceeded against, the party shall be exonerated.—M.J. Maulana Hasan Ali v. Amiruddin 1992 Cr LJ 1986
The order of holding a person guilty of having committed contempt of court cannot be reviewed by the court which is amenable to correction in an appeal under s. 19 of the Act.—Senior Sub Judge v. R. A. Kawzal 1991 Cr LJ 2432
The Supreme Court being the apex court and a superior court of record has power to determine its jurisdiction under article 129 of the Constitution and it has jurisdiction to initiate or entertain proceedings for contempt of subordinate courts.—Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat 1991 Cr LJ 3086
Where the unconditional apology is offered it has its due reflection on the question of punishment and it cannot completely absolute contempt.—1990 SCC (Cri) 626
Apology must be such as serving a large purpose, as a deterrent to those who treat the orders of the court with callous disregard or indifference. The ritualistic and formal apology in affidavit is not sufficient.—K.P. Isar & Sons (P) Ltd. V. K. Prathydhanan 1992 Cr LJ 2587