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Report No. 274

Chapter - IV

Judicial Approach on "Contempt"

4.1 A powerful judicial system is a condition precedent sine que non for a healthy democracy. If browbeating the court, flagrant violation of professional ethics and uncultured conduct is tolerated that would result in ultimate destruction of a system without which no democracy can survive63. When there is deliberate attempt to scandalise the court, it shakes the confidence of the litigant public in the system, the damage is caused to the fair name of the judiciary64.

If a litigant or a lawyer is permitted to malign a Judge with a view to get a favourable order, administration of justice would become a casualty and the rule of law could receive a setback. The judge has to act without any fear thus no one can be allowed to terrorise or intimidate the judges with a view to secure orders of one's choice. In no civilised system of administration of justice, this can be permitted.65

4.2 The power vested in the High Courts as well as Supreme Court to punish for contempt is a special and rare power available under the Constitution as well as the Act. It is a drastic power which, if misdirected, could result in curbing the liberty of the individual charged with commission of an act amounting to contempt.

The very nature of the power casts a sacred duty on the Courts to exercise the same with the greatest care and circumspection. This is also necessary as, more often than not, adjudication of a contempt plea involves a process of self- determination of the sweep, meaning and effect of the order in respect of which disobedience is alleged.

Courts must not, therefore, travel beyond the four corners of the order which is alleged to have been flouted or enter into questions that have not been dealt with or decided in the judgment or order, violation of which is alleged. Only such directions which are explicit in a judgment or order or are plainly self-evident, ought to be taken into account for the purpose of consideration as to whether there has been any disobedience or willful violation of the same. Decided issues cannot be reopened nor can the plea of equities be considered.

Courts must also ensure that while considering a contempt plea the power available to the Court in other corrective jurisdictions like review or appeal is not trenched upon. No order or direction supplemental to what has been already expressed should be issued by the Court while exercising contempt jurisdiction; such an exercise will be appropriate in other jurisdictions vested in the Court.66

4.3 That being so, a refusal to obey the final order of a court and/or attempt to overreach the same has been held by the Supreme Court to be a contempt of court with legal malice and arbitrariness as it is not permissible to scrutinise the order of court which has attained finality.67

4.4 The Supreme Court, considering punishment for established contempt of Court, in Supreme Court Bar Association (supra), held as under:

The power that courts of record enjoy to punish for contempt is a part of their inherent jurisdiction and is essential to enable the courts to administer justice according to law in a regular, orderly and effective manner.... The purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the Courts of law.

[Emphasis added]

4.5 In Leila David v. State of Maharashtra & Ors., AIR 2009 SC 3272 the Supreme Court observed that the basis of law of contempt does not lie exclusively on Common law principles but is also regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The Court observed that "apart from the power conferred on it under the said Act, it has inherent power under Article 129 of the Constitution to punish for contempt of itself." The Court further said that it had the power to punish a contemnor under Article 142 also. [See also: C. K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta & Ors, AIR 1971 SC 1132]

4.6 In Vishram Singh Raghubanshi v. State of U.P., AIR 2011 SC 2275, the Supreme Court reiterated that the contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the courts as majesty and image of the courts cannot be allowed to be disdained. The Court observed:

"The superior courts have a duty to protect the reputation of judicial officers of subordinate courts, taking note of the growing tendency of maligning the reputation of judicial officers by unscrupulous practising advocates who either fail to secure desired orders or do not succeed in browbeating for achieving ulterior purpose. Such an issue touches upon the independence of not only the judicial officers but brings the question of protecting the reputation of the Institution as a whole."

4.7 In Rustom Cowasjee Cooper v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 1318, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court observed:

"We are constrained to say also that while fair and temperate criticism of this Court or any other Court even if strong, may be actionable, attributing improper motives, or tending to bring Judges or courts into hatred and contempt or obstructing directly or indirectly with the functioning of Courts is serious contempt of which notice must and will be taken. Respect is expected not only from those to whom the judgment of the Court is acceptable but also from those to whom it is repugnant. Those who err in their criticism by indulging in vilification of the institution of Courts, administration of justice and the instruments through which the administration acts, should take heed for they will act at their own peril."

4.8 The power to punish for contempt is a rare species of judicial power which by the very nature calls for its exercise with great care and caution. Such power ought to be exercised only where "silence is no longer an option."

4.9 Scurrilous abuse of a judge or court, or attacks on the personal character of a Judge, are punishable contempt. Punishment is inflicted to prevent mischief which undermines or impairs the authority of the court. That is why the court regards with particular seriousness the allegations of partiality or bias on the part of the Judge or a court68.

4.10 In E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad (supra), the Court laid down that expressions like 'description of judiciary as an instrument of oppression, the judges as guided and dominated by class hatred' and 'instinctively favouring the rich against the poor' are expressions amounting to contempt of court.

Review of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 Back

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