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Report No. 274

B. England and Wales

3.7 Under the English law, the primary legislation relating to contempt of courts is the Contempt of Court Act, 1981, which deals with civil and criminal contempt, places a maximum limit on the power to imprison a contemnor for two (2) years. The Act, under section 1, provides for the 'strict liability rule', where conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so.55

3.8 In 2012, the Law Commission of United Kingdom published a paper on contempt powers, in which it expressly recommended abolishing the offence of 'scandalising the Court' as a ground for criminal contempt. Its recommendations were accepted, and the said offence stood abolished in 2013, by an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill.

The Commission while making the recommendation noted that the basic purpose of powers of contempt was similar to that of seditious libel, i.e. to ensure the good reputation of the State (or, in the case of scandalising, the judges) by controlling what could be said about them. With the abolition of seditious libel, the raison d'ĂȘtre of scandalising the Court was also - now - weakened. In England and Wales, there were only two prosecutions in the 20th century, and that too prior to 1931. Thus, the provision had become redundant.56

3.9 The Law Commission further noted that if the action is sufficiently offensive or threatening, it could in principle be covered under the Public Order Act, 1986 or the Communications Act, 200357.

Review of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 Back

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