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Question – What is meant by Contempt of court? To what extent do you agree with the statement that the Contempt of Court Act impedes freedom of speech and expression provided by the Constitution? Confirm your answer with logic. – 15 June 2021
Contempt of court law is one of the most controversial elements in the Indian legal context. However, the basic concept of contempt law is to punish those who disrespect or disobey the orders of the court. In the Indian context, contempt law is used to punish those who outrage the dignity of the court, and obstruct judicial administration.
Concept of judicial contempt
- The concept of ‘contempt of court’ has existed in England for many centuries. In England it is recognized as a general legal principles intended to protect the ‘judicial powers’ of the king.
- Initially the king himself exercised his judicial powers, but later these powers were exercised by a ‘panel of judges’ who act in the name of the king. Violation of the orders of the judges was seen as an insult to the king himself.
- Over time, any disobedience to judges, or obstructing the implementation of their directions, or making any remarks or acts that showed disrespect to them, became punishable.
- The laws of contempt of court existed in India even before independence. Apart from the early High Courts, such laws existed in the courts of some princely states.
Punishment for contempt of court:
- The Supreme Court and the High Court have the power to punish for contempt of court. The punishment may be simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to 2000 rupees, or with both.
- In the year 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that, it has the power to punish not only itself but also in cases of contempt of High Courts, subordinate courts and tribunals throughout the country.
- Under Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the High Courts have been given special power to punish for contempt of subordinate courts.
Concerns related to contempt of court:
- Article 19 of the Constitution provides freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of India, but by the Contempt of Judicial Act, 1971, it is prohibited to speak against the functioning of the court.
- This law is very subjective, so the penalty of contempt can be used by the court to suppress the voice of the person criticizing itself.
- The Contempt Act creates a conflict of interest situation for the judiciary, as the judges themselves are the victims and they themselves play the role of judiciary.
- The Contempt Act is against democratic ethos, as constructive criticism is of paramount importance in a healthy democracy, while the law prohibits criticism of the judiciary.
- The Contempt of Judicial Act lacks a provision with respect to the protection of the individual, which is against the principle of natural justice.
As a remedy, freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) should be treated as primary, and the power of contempt of court should be subordinated to it. The judiciary must strive to balance two conflicting principles, freedom of speech and expression, and impartial judgment. It is necessary for the legislature to take steps to amend the contempt law and clearly define the contempt act and the limits of its application.