Contempt of court

• The Supreme Court of India has initiated contempt proceedings, on its own motion, against advocate-activist Prashant Bhushan.

About:

• Contempt of court is a concept that seeks to protect judicial institutions from motivated attacks and unwarranted criticism, and as a legal mechanism to punish those who lower its authority.

Statutory basis:

• In the Indian Constitution, contempt of court is one of the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.

• Separately, Article 129 of the Constitution conferred on the Supreme Court the power to punish contempt of itself. Article 215 conferred a corresponding power on the High Courts.

• The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gives statutory backing to the idea.

Kinds of contempt of court:

• The law codifying contempt classifies it as civil and criminal.

• Civil contempt is committed when someone wilfully disobeys a court order, or wilfully breaches an undertaking given to court.

• Criminal contempt consists of three forms: (a) words, signs and actions that “scandalise” or “lower” the authority of any court (b) prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding and (c) interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice.

What is not contempt of court?

• Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to contempt of court.

• Nor is any fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of.

• Is truth a defence against a contempt charge?

• The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 was amended in 2006 to introduce truth as a valid defence against a charge of contempt, if it was in public interest and was invoked in a bona fide manner.

Punishment:

• The punishment for contempt of court is simple imprisonment for a term up to six months and/or a fine of up to ₹. 2,000.

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Mains Paper 2: Polity

Prelims level: Contempt of court

Mains level: Types of contempt of court

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