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Section: B

Category: Article

Paper Code: RA-PG-04

Page Number: 282 - 287

Date of Publication: February 10, 2021

Citation: Paras Gupta, Contempt of Court: An Urgent Requisite to Re-Explore, 1, AIJACLA, 282, 282-287, (2021),

Details Of Author(s):

Paras Gupta, B.A.LL.B.(Hons.), Institute of Law, Kurukshetra University

ABSTRACT The laws on contempt of court, the most controversial issue, has once again been put in the dock, over their incompetency to elucidate the wafer-thin distinction of contempt of court with the right to speech and expression and the magnanimity of them that have given people the courage and a chance to lower the prestige of judges and courts and to undermine the integrity and devotion of judges and the judicial system of India. The sanctity of the distinction between Freedom of Speech and Contempt of Court lies in the unabated occurrences of Contempt of Court in India. This paper deals with the pressing need of making the laws stringent on the contempt of court and the necessity of setting a model before all, to hamper the events of bringing down the poise and authority of the courts. KEYWORDS Contempt, Freedom of Speech, Judiciary, and Supreme Court


Contempt of Court, the most controversial issue, has once again come into the limelight, this time, by the tweets of Prashant Bhushan. Time and again, the voices have been raised to elucidate and ratify the wafer-thin difference between Right to Speech and Expression and Contempt of Court. Contempt of Court is defined under Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, seems unclear, as there occur unabated instances of contempt in India wherein the thin line between free speech and contempt of court has been constantly jumped and disrespected.

Contempt of Court alludes to the offense of irreverence or insubordination towards a courtroom and its officials that contradicts or challenges the equity, authority, and poise of the court. Contempt of Court, as a protected force, is vested with the Supreme Court, giving the Apex Court, power under Article 129 of the Constitution of India to punish the offenders for the contempt of itself[1]. Article 129 of the Indian Constitution states that “The Supreme Court of India shall be a court of record and will have all the forces of such a court including the ability to rebuff for contempt of itself[2]. The High Court too, under Article 215 of the Indian Constitution has been empowered to punish the people for contempt of itself[3]. While a fundamental thought of a contempt law is to rebuff the individuals, who don't regard the sets of the courts, in the Indian Law, hatred is likewise used to rebuff those whose discourse brings down the nobility of the court and meddles with the organization of equity.


The instances of contempt of courts in India continue unabated. It is not for the first time that a person like Prashant Bhushan was tried before the Apex Court for disrespect of the Court or its officers. The antiquity of these instances can belong traced. Moreover, it is also not the first time for Prashant Bhushan to commit this offense. In 2009 also he had made allegations of corruption on former Chief Justices while giving an interview to Tehelka Magazine, whose proceedings are still pending before the Apex Court[4].

There have been several high-profile cases of contempt in India in the last two decades. For instance, M.V.Jayarajan, a politician from Kerala’s Communist Party of India, was imprisoned for four weeks by the Apex Court for using the Malayalam term, ‘human’(idiot) in a speech criticizing the judiciary[5]. Another instance, when a politician was punished for contempt of court can be found is in the case of EMS Namboodiripad, when in a speech criticizing the judiciary, he asserted that the Communist theorists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had considered the judiciary to be an “instrument of oppression[6].

Moreover, in 2002, a popular writer and activist Arundhati Roy was held guilty for contempt of court after she avowed that the judiciary was “smothering contradiction”, in an article titled ‘The Great Common Good’[7].

The legal system in India too is not able to sojourn the disseminating instances of contempt of court in India. Despite the judgments being pronounced time and again by the Apex Court concerning the contempt of court, they are hardly able to make an impact on the continuance of instances of lowering the prestige of judges and courts. Still, the government of India has turned a deaf ear to the vital need of amending the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.


From the very beginning, when the talks on adding contempt of court as a curtailment to the freedom of speech and expression were hot in the constituent assembly, the views bifurcated. While some members were against the amendment proposed by T.T. Krishnamachari for adding contempt of court in restrictions under Article 19, some sustained the amendment.

The views were two folded. R.K. Sidhva, a member of the Constituent Assembly, criticized the assumption that the judges will use the law cautiously with a view that “Judges have not got two horns; they also are liable to commit mistakes. For what reason would it be a good idea for us to show such a great amount of tolerance to them? The interest of the public must be safeguarded”. Biswanath Das has even gone to the extent, terming the very move to table the amendment as ‘tyranny of the drafting committee”.

Positioning the amendment as filling a lacuna rather than expanding the scope of Article 19, T.T. Krishnamachari was of the view that “as contempt of court law was already in existence, as was the case with defamation and public order provisions, it had to be expressly protected from being overwritten by the final Article 13”. Moreover, Ambedkar’s response to the whole debate rested on legal technicalities. He was of the view that if contempt of court is not added as a reasonable restriction, the contempt laws would have to be abrogated as they would conflict with the fundamental rights chapter.

Finally, after a bit of wrangling and the exchange of views, the amendment was adopted by the constituent assembly with the subject of contempt of court being added in restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution[8].


The proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court for criminal contempt of court against the lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan in the context of the comment made by him on social media targeting the current Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde has once again brought under focus the need for reviewing the law on Contempt of Court. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 layouts the system corresponding to investigation and punishment for contempt.

The contempt laws of India are old and need to be reanalyzed. The cumulative instances of contempt of court evince the inefficacy of the laws in India to hamper the intrepidity of the offenders. Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 deals with the retribution for the contempt of court. Under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, a contempt of court can be rebuffed with a straightforward detainment which may stretch out to a half year or with a fine which may reach out to 2,000 rupees or both. Also, a denounced might be released or the discipline granted might be transmitted on a statement of regret being made by the blamed to the fulfillment for the court[9].

The problem here lies with the stringency of the laws for punishing the offenders. Just by giving an apology, a person will be free from the transgression that he has committed by putting a question mark on the legal system of India. Moreover, the punishment given for undermining the dignity and respect of the judicial system is also not too stern. The recent case of Prashant Bhushan is a vivid example of this fact. Despite setting an example for the future, the provisions under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, gird the hands of the judiciary to impose a fine of just Rs. 1 on a person like Prashant Bhushan. Maybe, the amount imposed as a fine was to worry a millionaire like Mr. Bhushan in finding a coin of Rs.1[10], but it gives a negative expression of the mind of people. This was not the first time that such a minimal amount was decided as a fine for the offense of contempt of court. EVS Namboodiripad, the then chief minister of Kerala, was only penalized with a fine of Rs. 50 for undermining the dignity of the judiciary. Moreover, the renowned person like Arundhati Roy was left by just giving a warning and not initiating any proceedings against her for the contempt of court [11], clearly evincing that the magnanimity of the laws in India gives people the courage and a chance to lower the prestige of judges and courts and to undermine the integrity and devotion of judges and the judicial system of India.


The aspect of the fundamental right to speech and the contempt of court doesn’t seem to be novel. It is hard to mark the thin line difference between both. Often, the politicians, academicians, and scholars have expressed their anguish over the fundamental right to speech being diluted by including contempt of court as a reasonable restriction. Article 19(1) (a)[12] of the Constitution of India talks of the freedom of speech and expression. In a democracy like India, freedom of speech and expression is indispensable. Freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one’s own opinions and convictions through any communicable medium or visible representation freely such as gestures, signs[13], and by words of mouth, printing, writing, pictures, or any other mode. The expression connotes also publication and the freedom of the press is included in this category.

For a very long time, there has been a tussle and struggle on the removal of contempt of court from the restrictions given under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The reasons given for the same are long and unceasing. A democratic state requires transparency at all levels. When the judiciary is questioned, it should be able to defend itself with the facts to instigate rational thinking and not get offended and manifest contempt to silence criticism. Moreover, there have been several judgments favoring these voices. In Ambard v. Att Gen of Trinidad and Tobago[14], Lord Atkin observed that “whether the power and position of an individual adjudicator or due supervision of justice is concerned, no wrong is committed by any individual from the public who practices the normal right of reprimanding, in compliance with common decency, in private or public, the public demonstration done in the seat of equity. Egalitarianism is not a sequestered issue. She must be allowed to endure the respect and scrutiny, even though outspoken, the remarks of the general population.” Moreover, in Brahma Prakash Sharma and Ors v. State of Uttar Pradesh[15], it was held that “the character of an adjudicator is inside the constraints of reasonable and sensible analysis regardless of whether it is simple slander or criticism of the appointed authority”.

The views in approbation of contempt of court being continued as restriction are no less. In Sunday Times v. the U.K.[16], it was held that “The activity of these changes, since it passes on with its commitments and obligations, might be dependent upon such conventions, limitations, conditions or punishments as are suggested by the law and are elemental in a just society for keeping up the position and fair-mindedness of the legal executive”. In Aswini Kumar Ghose v. Arabinda Bose[17], the Court observed that “if an impression is made in the psyche of the public that the adjudicators in the most noteworthy court in the land follow up on incidental contemplations in choosing a case, the certainty of the general population in the organization of equity will undoubtedly be subverted and no greater devilment than that can be envisioned”. In D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India[18], it was further observed that “any criticism about the judges or the judicial system which disintegrates the faith in the objective approach of the judges or which hampers the administration of justice and brings the administration of justice to ridicule must be forestalled”.


Contempt of court is an injury to the public as it, in general, make a misgiving in the psyche of the individuals concerning the reasonableness and capacity of the appointed authority or deters actual and prospective litigants from placing a complete reliance upon the court's administration of justice, and is likely to cause embarrassment in the mind of the judge himself in the discharge of his legal obligations[19]. The intensity of disdain of the court is important to keep up the grandness and poise of the adjudicators and to vindicate their authority[20]. The time has come to revisit the contempt laws in India. The cumulative instances of contempt of courts mark it as a right time to accept willingly and enthusiastically that there is a pressing need to bring some decent, stringent, and tough changes in the laws to solve the issue of unhampered instances of contempt of courts. The necessity of a clear set of guidelines, of what is acceptable or not can’t be ignored. In the end, the regressive and languishing debates are futile unless imperative and adequate steps are taken to elucidate the distinction and to resolve the deep-rooted conflict between the right to free speech and contempt of court.

[1] Contempt of Court: Time for a relook?, Clear IAS, (Oct. 2020, 05, 09:00 AM), [2] Constitution of India 1950, Art. 129. [3] Constitution of India 1950, Aart. 215. [4] Bhandra Sinha, SC refuses to accept Prashant Bhushan’s explanation in 2009 contempt case, The Print, (Oct. 2020, 10, 01:14 PM), [5] Prashant Reddy & Kian Ganz, A guide to contempt law, Mint, (Oct. 2020, 11, 02:00 PM), [6]Should the courts be above scrutiny:Debate rekindles with politician jailed for calling judge an idiot, The News Minute [7] A. G. NOORANI, A case for a new approach to contempt of court, The Hindu, (Oct. 2020, 11, 10:30 AM), [8]Sruthisagar Yamunan, Concerns about contempt laws came up in the constituent assembly- and were never fully addressed, (Oct. 2020, 27 09:00 AM), [9] Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Punishment for contempt of court, (Oct. 2020, 28, 09:45 PM), [10] M.P. Joseph, Time to revisit contempt laws (Oct. 2020, 29 03:17 PM), [11] Contempt case against Rahul: He is not alone, CPM doyen EMS Namboodiripadwas once fined Rs. 50for contempt, Times Now, (Oct. 2020, 30, 04:45 PM), [12] Constitution of India 1950, Art. 19(1). [13] Lowell v. Griffin, (1939) 303 US 444. [14] Ambard v. Att Gen of Trinidad and Tobago(1936) A.C. 322 (P.C). [15] Brahma Prakash Sharma and Ors v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1954 SC 10. [16]Sunday Times v. U.K., (1979)2 E.H.R.R. 245. [17]Aswini Kumar Ghose v. Arabinda Bose, AIR 1953 SC 75. [18] D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India , 1996 SCC (7) 216. [19]Brahma Prakash Sharma v. State of U.P. 1953 SCR 1169. [20] Markandey Katju, It’s time to amend law on contempt of court, The Times of India, (Nov. 2020, 01, 09:00 AM),

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