In the Republic of India, an individual is said to have committed the offence of contempt of court when the person disobeys an order from a court (which is called civil contempt) or when an individual says or does anything that affects, jeopardizes, or scandalizes processes in court or the administration of justice (also called criminal contempt) is called contempt of court. It is considered to be a very serious offence and there is a punishment in place in form of a fine, imprisonment, or even both.
The concept of the offence of contempt of courts was created in common law during the time of the colonial officers of Britain, as far back as the Regulating Act of 1773. It stated that the newly-established Mayor’s Court of Calcutta was to be empowered with the same authority as the King’s Bench in England when it comes to the punishment of those guilty of contempt.
The Contempt of Courts Act
In 1926, the Contempt of Courts Act was enacted and this was to sort the resolution for clash of opinions between the High Courts in India. This was related to whether they possessed the power and authority to punish those who guilty of contempt involving other lower courts that fell within their sphere of jurisdiction. What the 1926 Act specifically did was to do an affirmation of this power and it gave the High Courts the freedom to issue penalties on contempt against the lower courts in addition to against their proceedings and judgments.
In 1952, there was a replacement of the Contempt of Courts Act with a new piece of legislation but it had the same name. The only difference is that there was an expansion of power for the punishment of contempt from the High Courts as well as the other courts. The Constitution of India had been enacted in 1950 and it outlined precisely the creation of the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts in Indian states regarding their roles as the courts of record but with the authority to issue punishment for acts of contempt. It must also be pointed out that contempt of court is a justification for the restriction of the right that has to do with freedom of speech.
A committee was set up in India in 1961 and it was led by HN Sanyal in his role as the Additional Solicitor General and the duty of the committee was the examination of the usage of the contempt laws of the country. It was thus called the Sanyal Committee and it made the recommendation that proceedings for contempt have to be started not by the courts but based upon the recommendation from a law officer working for the government.
The recommendations were accepted and they were included in 1971 when the Parliament of India enacted a new version of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971. That act remains the current piece of legislation that governs contempt of courts in India.
The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 outlines the definition of criminal and civil contempt and also gives details on the procedures and powers that the courts can use to exercise their powers regarding the penalty regarding the offence of contempt. In 2006, there was an amendment to the Act and it put a limit on the powers of the courts when it comes to the punishment for contempt, but only when the contempt in question constitutes an interference regarding the due course of justice.
Commission of Contempt of Court
The Contempt of Courts Act enacted in 1971 classified the offence of contempt into criminal and civil contempt. The specification within that Act stipulates that the Supreme Court of India and the High Courts are empowered to try and also punish for the offence of contempt and the High Courts have also been empowered to issue punishments for acts of contempt leveled against the courts subordinate to them. But overall, the Supreme Court of India clarified that the power to issue punishment for contempt is inherent in any court of record.