The administration of law and the proper administration of justice must inevitably be hampered by anything that restricts or interferes with the freedom or limits of judicial proceedings. Contempt of court is inherently involved in this. According to Oswald, conduct that tends to interfere with or prejudice parties or their witnesses during legal proceedings, or that tends to disrespect or disregard the authority and administration of the law, constitutes contempt. According to Halsbury, contempt is the use of verbal or written statements that interfere with or have the potential to interfere with the administration of justice.

According to Black Odgers, to publish words that have the potential to undermine the administration of justice, to impede the fair trial of any case or matter that is the subject of a civil or criminal proceeding, or to otherwise obstruct the cause of justice is considered to be contempt of court.

It is generally believed that the current law relating to court contempt is relatively ambiguous, undefinable, and unsatisfactory in the case of India, where Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines contempt of court as either civil contempt or criminal contempt. Two essential fundamental rights that are addressed by the authority to punish for contempt are the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of expression. Therefore, it was thought wise to have a special committee review the entire law on the subject.  

In order to implement this, a committee was formed in 1961  with the late H N Sanyal serving as its head. At the time, he was the additional solicitor general. The committee conducted a thorough analysis of the law and issues relating to contempt of court in light of the situation prevailing in both our own nation and numerous other foreign countries. The committee’s recommendations emphasized the significance of freedom of speech in the Constitution as well as the necessity of preserving the dignity and honor of courts and the interests of the administration of justice.

The government has generally endorsed the committee’s recommendations after taking into account the opinions expressed on them by the state and union territory administrations, the Supreme Court, the high courts, and the judicial commissioners.

In the case of C.K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta (1971 1 SCC 626), the respondent circulated a booklet to the public that purported to accuse Judge Shah of bias and dishonesty while he was serving as a judge. Mr. C.K. Daphtary and others filed a petition in which they claimed that the pamphlet had disappointed the justices involved in the ruling, called into question the legitimacy of the nation’s highest court and reduced public trust in it.

Law Point 

The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, was passed in order to address the idea of contempt of court. The Supreme Court and the High Court are given the authority to penalize individuals for their respective contempt under Articles 129 and 215 of the Indian Constitution, respectively. The authority of the High Court to punish contempt of its subordinate courts is outlined in Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971. Article 19(1) does not apply to the ability to punish for contempt of court under Articles 129 and 215(a). 


In general, the following criteria must be met in order to prove contempt: 

  • The issuance of a valid court order
  • Respondent knowledge of the order
  • Respondent ability to render compliance
  • Willful disobedience of the order 


According to Lord Hardwick, contempt can be categorized in one of three ways: 

  • creating controversy inside the court 
  • Abusing parties involved in the case in front of the court
  • Disparaging the general population before the issue is addressed

However, there are two types of contempt of court in India: 

  • Civil Contempt 

Civil contempt is defined as willful disobedience to any judgement, decree, direction, order, writ, or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking provided to a court under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971. 

  • Criminal Contempt

Criminal contempt is defined by Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 as the publication of any matter or the performance of any act that:

(i) scandalizes or seeks to scandalize, lowers, or trends to degrade the authority of any court, or

(ii) prejudice, or interferes, or tends to interfere, with the proper conduct of, any judicial process, or

(iii) Interferes or tends to interfere the administration of justice in any other way, interferes with it, or tends to interfere with it.

(a) “High Court” refers to the highest court in a state or union territory, which also includes the court of the judicial commissioner in any union territory.


There can be no question that the object of contempt jurisdiction is to preserve the majesty and dignity of the legal system and that the public’s perception of the courts is in no way reduced. 

The confidence reposed in the courts is rudely shattered if the common man is made to lose respect for the judge acting in the performance of his judicial duties through defamatory remarks or writings, and the perpetrator needs to be punished. In effect, the rule against contempt serves as the judge’s seat’s guardian rather than the person sitting it.

Third party 

If a third person has a role to play in the offense, they may be charged with contempt of court. According to Lindgren J. in LED Builders Pty Ltd v Eagles Homes Pty Ltd ([1999] FCA 1213):

It is not essential to prove that the individual who assisted in the violation of the court’s order was served with it. Only the fact that the person who sought to be held liable was aware of the order must be proven. 


According to Section 20 of the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act, the statute of limitations for actions of contempt is one year from the purported date of the accused act of contempt.

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