Contempt of court refers to the crime of failing to respect the dignity and honorability of the judiciary. Contempt of court means a notion designed to protect judiciary from impelled aggressions and unjustified criticism.

The main purpose of this provision is to safeguard the holiness of judiciary with an intention to promote the proper administration of justice. And so this concept provides punishments to those who attempts to belittle and as a legal mechanism for punishing those who belittle the dignity or reputation of judicial bodies.

However it is to be noted that this particular concept do not meant to preserve the personal reputation of judges. Contempt of court may arises when a statement is made particularly as a provocation or to express one’s strong opposition with regard to the judgements or approach welcomed from the part of judges.   


Judiciary is a system of courts or judicial bodies associated with law and rule. It is meant to meet the ends of justice. The judicial institutions stand for the proper administration of justice to the citizens. It aims to serve and protect the rights and interest of people in accordance with law and legislature. Various legislations have been enacted by the legislative bodies to ensure the lawful needs of people and those enactments may change from time to time.

However the judiciary is required to interpret the law, to enforce the provisions in various statutes and also to hear and adjudicate the disputes arising within the country. And it is certain that while deciding such legal issues or disputes there may arose difference of opinions.

Sometimes those people with strong oppositions tend to lower the power of the judiciary. When the authority of the Court of Justice gets abused or belittled, the hope as well as faith of people in the application of law and justice will be injured. Thus the need for the jurisdiction of contempt of court came to light.


The expression contempt of court has its origin from the term ‘contemptus curiae’. It has been accepted and followed by English Courts for eight centuries.   The law gave the power to impose discipline within its departments and provided punishment to the persons who refused to follow their rules and orders. Contempt of a court refers to an act which resists or shows ungrace and discourtesy towards the judiciary.  Any behavior leading to contempt will be in conflict with the integrity, and nobility of the court.  As a result, anything that limits or impedes the freedom of judicial process, obstructs the application of the law and thereby interferes with the administration of justice, it amounts to contempt for the court.

A Law related to the contempt of court was enacted in the year 1926 for the first time. However, it was replaced by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 since the first legislation did not contain any rules with respect to the contempt of a subordinate court. Even this act, did not satisfy the interests of people.  It was widely believed that the existing law on the contempt of the courts was ambiguous, indefinite and inadequately delimited.  And to deny the prevailing doubts H. N. Sanyal, additional advocate established a committee in 1961.

The history of the contempt law in India has it origin even before the period of Independence. The East India Company took over the territories in India, and as a result the Charter of 1726 that stipulated a provision for the formation of a company in each Presidential City had been published by the King of England. Mayoral Courts were constituted in every municipalities of the Presidency. They were authorized to resolve all civil cases within the respective municipalities and subordinate areas. Hence the charter of 1726 is recognized as a breakthrough in Indian history.


By virtue of article 129 of the Constitution of India, The Supreme Court is a court of record that contains the authorities of a court and can even punish itself for contempt of court. The higher courts shall have the authority to punish judicial officer of an inferior court for the offence of Contempt of court. This jurisdiction aims to ensure dignity of judiciary and the promotion of law and justice.

The Laws related to the contempt and punishments for various contempts are enshrined in The Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Section 10 of the Act sets out the authority of the High Court to give punishment for offence of contempt by its subordinate courts.

Section 15 says that Supreme Court and higher courts can directly deal with a case of criminal contempt. Furthermore, articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India authorize the Supreme Court as well as the High Court to provide punishment to individuals in respect of contempt of court to punish individuals for their respective contempt.   

However the powers under articles 129 & 215 are not restricted by Art 19(1) (a). Section 2(b) and 2(c) lays down the definition of contempt of court and it restricts the power of certain courts to provide punishment or penalty with respect to contempt of courts. 

Under this Act, contempt means civil contempt or criminal contempt. According to S. 2(b), any willful disobedient with respect to an order, judgement, decision, decree, writ and other proceedings of a court would amount to contempt of court. It also includes late compliance with court orders, deliberately disobeying the court order, negligent approach in the execution of an order, misuse of judicial proceedings etc.

In Gurminder Singh Kang v. Shiva Prasad Singh[1], the appellant was an IAS Officer and he revoked the timebound promotion of the respondent against the order of highcourt. He even justified his act for the reason that he could not understand the soul of the order in the right way. However the Highcourt dismissed his contentions and sentenced him for 2 months simple imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 2000.

In Brahma Prakash Sharma v. The State of Uttar Pradesh[2], the Apex Court mentioned that it is sufficient if a statement is probable or inclined in any way to hinder with the proper administration of justice. And added that there is no need to prove that there had been direct intervention in the administration of justice.

In P. N. Duda v. V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others[3], the Apex court held that unless and until an act or statement makes hindrance while ensuring or promoting justice to the people, criticsm towards the act of judiciary shall be welcomed and  added that judges are not empowered to initiate contempt of court to defend their  individual reputation.

2(c) defines a criminal contempt and the ingredients which constitute the offence of criminal contempt. According to Section 2 (c) (1) of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, if any words either spoken or made in writing or by various signals or if any such act that exposes or inclines to scandal, reduces or tends to demean the authority of any judge in court it would be an offense of criminal contempt. Although there is no specific definition for what constitutes scandalize the tribunal it is widely recognized and applied. It is to be noted that any comment which is supposed to be a fair and lawful observation can’t be regarded as contempt. And it is the discretion of court or judiciary to distinguish and explain what constitutes a fair and lawful comment. Sometimes the judiciary also becomes contrary while deciding scandal cases as a result of the wide range of explanation.

In Vishram Singh Raghubanshi v. State of Uttar Pradesh[4],
the Apex Court explained criminal contempt and considered the ingredient of scandilising judiciary. The Court observed that these acts would undermine the public faith towards the judiciary. And held that it was undesirable to abolish the provision since there is a possibility that it would reduce the dignity of court.

In another case M.V. Jayarajan v. High Court of Kerala & Another[5], M.V. Jayarajan was guilty for the offence of contempt of court since he addressd a judge of High Court of Kerala as ‘Sumbhan’ during a public speech at kannur in a Hartal with respect to the rise in price of petrol. It was a phrase commonly used by the locals to address a person who says anything without adequately understanding or analysing the different aspects of a particular issue. Here in this case, M.V. Jayarjan called so for banning meetings on public roads and road margins inorder to reduce the rate of accidents and traffic jam. Evenafter he was charged  for the offence of contempt of court, he didn’t apologize for his act. Therefore the HC sentenced him a four weeks simple imprisonment.

Another important case with regard to this aspect is E.M.S Namboodhirippad v. T.N Nambiar[6]. In this case the respondent E.M.S Namoodhirippad, the then Chief Minister of Kerala made a statement with respect to the judges that ‘The judges are followed and influenced by the interest of a particular class. He also commented that if the justice is balanced between a well-dressed wealthy man and a poorly dressed man the judges will obviously be subjected to the first. Furthermore, he stated that judges act contrary to the welfare of the weaker sections of a community including the farmers and workers. Hence was liable to a fine of Rs.50.


Under The Contempt of Court Act 1971, the offender or the person accused of contempt may be released on an unconditional apology for his action. Otherwise the maximum punishment that can be provided for a Criminal contempt is simple imprisonment for 6 months or fine upto Rs.2000 or both. In case of a civil contempt, if the court is of the opinion that fine itself can’t ensure justice, then the court has the power to make an order to detain the accused in a civil prison for a period which should not exceed six months.


By virtue of Section 10 of the Act a contempt proceedings can’t be executed after the lapse of one year from the date of commission of the proposed act of contempt.


Generally an order of High court with respect to contempt of court is appealable. Provided if the order is passed by a single judge appeal shall be made before a division bench and if it is by division bench, appeal lies before the Supreme court.


Prasanth Bhoooshan Case[7] is the most sensational one among the cases related to contempt of court. The issue of criminal contempt has returned to the fore following a Suo-Motu case against lawyer Prashant Bhushan brought by the Supreme Court with respect to the tweets he wrote in comments on CJI S.A Bobde and other CJIs. In addition to this another case against Mr. Bhushan for his charges against the then CJI S.H.  Kapadia in an interview with Tehelka magazine made in 2009 is under the consideration of the court. In the interview, he claimed that 8of the last 16 CJIs were corrupt. And alleged that the CJ. Kabadia having a share in the Sterlite company passed the decree in favour of that company.

Similarly on the 27th day of June, 2020 he made a tweet that the last four chief justices annihilated the spirit of the concept of democracy in the shadow of the SC. Along with this he alleged that CJ. Bobde misused his position by riding a luxurious bike without wearing a helmet and mask and he added that SC failed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens at the time of lockdown. In light of this allegations, on the 14th  day of August, 2020 Prashanth Bhushan was found guilty of contempt of court for his tweets regarding chief justice.

Accordingly on Monday, Prashant Bhushan was punished with a symbolic fine of Re 1 by the Supreme court with respect to his contempt against the court and ordered that if he did not pay the fine by September 15, he would be liable for three months imprisonment and restricted from practice as a lawyer for a period of three years.

Another case regarding contempt of court was happened recently in Chennai. The HC Of Madras on 17th day of July, issued an order letting the educational institutions including colleges and schools of Tamil Nadu to receive 75% of the fees by two instalments as 40% int the beginning and 35% when the schools reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic. And the Madras High Court launched a suo motu case for contempt of court against nine private schools in Tamil Nadu with respect to the requirement of full dues from the parents in contrary of the order of court.


Contempt of court is that the act of showing disrespect towards the authority of judiciary. There are two sorts of contempt civil and criminal. In India, the concept of contempt for courts has originated within the reign of British government. Contempt of court includes any action or statement either spoken or in writing or by way of sign which obstructs the free and independent performance of judicial activities. It also includes any defamatory statement which is probably going to limit or belittle the spirit of judiciary and thereby causing obstruction within the promotion of justice. Contempt of Court Act, 1971 also because the various articles of Indian constitution strives to guard the soul of judiciary from any quite vilification. However it’s to be noted that inspite of the various laws, there are many significant decisions and precedents by which the Supreme court has provided the varied ingredients resulting in the contempt of court. And in particular the courts are having discretionary power or authority to make a decision what constitutes a contempt of court and not.

[1]  Gurminder Singh Kang v. Shiva Prasad Singh, AIR 2013 SC 520

[2] Brahma Prakash Sharma v. The State of Uttar Pradesh, 1954 SCR 1169

[3] P. N. Duda v. V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others, 1988 AIR 1208

[4] Vishram Singh Raghubanshi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 2011 SC 2275

[5] M.V. Jayarajan v. High Court of Kerala  & Another, Criminal Appeal No. 2099 of 2011

[6] E.M.S Namboodhirippad v. T.N Nambiar, AIR 1970 SC 2015

[7]  Re Prashant Bhushan & Anr, SCM  (CRL.) No. 1 OF 2020