Contempt of Court: A Brief Introduction

Contempt of court, often referred to simply as “contempt”, is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies authority, justice, and dignity of the court. A judge who feels someone is improperly challenging or ignoring the court’s authority has the power to declare the defiant person (called the contemnor) in contempt of court. There are two types of contempt, criminal and civil. 

Clause (a) of Section 2 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines that “Contempt of Court” means civil contempt or criminal contempt.

1. “Civil contempt”.- Clause (b) of Section 2 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines that “civil contempt” means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a Court or wilful breach of an undertaking giving to a Court.

Civil contempt is basically a wrong to the person who is entitled to the benefit of a court order.

Civil Contempt is essentially initiated for effective implementation of an order. The proceeding is only a form of execution. Civil contempt as distinguished from criminal contempt is a sanction to enforce compliance with an order of the court or to compensate for losses or damages sustained by reason of non-compliance.

Following conditions are necessary to constitute civil contempt:     

(1) There must be a judgment or order or decree or direction or writ or other process of a Court, or An undertaking given to a Court.

(2) The judgment etc., must be of and     undertaking must be given to a court.

(3) There must be a disobedience to such judgment etc. or breach of such  undertaking.

(4) The disobedience or breach, as the case may be, must be wilful.

To constitute “civil contempt” the followings have to be proved:

(1) There was disobedience of the judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of the Court.

(2) There was wilful breach of an undertaking given to a Court.

2. Criminal Contempt.- Sub-section (c) of Section 2 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 provides that “Criminal Contempt” means the publication (whether by words spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:

(i)   scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or

(ii)   prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or

(iii)   interferes or tends to interfere with or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

The offence of contempt is with the administration of justice and the paramount idea is that no tribunal can function properly unless it is allowed to keep up its dignity. In general parlance, the term, “contempt” signifies disrespect to that which is entitled to legal regard. Contempt which is criminal consist in a conduct which offends the majesty of law and undermines the dignity of the courts.

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