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Report No. 274

Chapter - V

Criminal Contempt

5.1 Criminal Contempt of court is disobedience of the Court by acting in opposition to the authority, justice and dignity thereof. It can be defined as a "conduct that is directed against the dignity and authority of the Court71".

5.2 Criminal Contempt signifies conduct which tends to bring the authority of the court and administration of law into disrepute. The Supreme Court also laid down that "vilificatory criticism of a Judge functioning as a Judge even in purely administrative or non-adjudicatory matters" amounts to criminal contempt72.

5.3 There are various forms of contumacious action recognized to be constituting criminal contempt. 'Scandalising the court or a judge in relation his office' is one of them. "There are many kinds of contempt. The chief forms of contempt are insult to Judges, attacks upon them, comment on pending proceedings with a tendency to prejudice fair trial, obstruction to officers of courts, witnesses or the parties, abusing the process of the court, breach of duty by officers connected with the court and scandalising the Judges or the courts.

The last form occurs, generally speaking, when the conduct of a person tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or disregard. In this conduct are included all acts which bring the court into disrepute or disrespect or which offend its dignity, affront its majesty or challenge its authority. Such contempt may be committed in respect of a Single Judge or a single court but may, in certain circumstances, be committed in respect of the whole of the judiciary or judicial system."73

5.4 In Hari Singh Nagra & Ors. v. Kapil Sibbal & Ors., (2010) 7 SCC 502, the Supreme Court explained the term 'scandalising the court' as under:

"Scandalising in substance is an attack on individual Judges or the Court as a whole with or without referring to particular cases casting unwarranted and defamatory aspersions upon the character or the ability of the Judges. 'Scandalising the Court' is a convenient way of describing a publication which, although it does not relate to any specific case either post or pending or any specific Judge, is a scurrilous attack on the judiciary as a whole which is calculated to undermine the authority of the Courts and public confidence in the administration of justice."

5.5 In Amit Chanchal Jha v. Registrar High Court of Delhi, (2015) 13 SCC 288, wherein the lady advocate had allegedly been slapped and abused by the opposite counsel, the Court held that such acts during judicial proceedings by another advocate in presence of the presiding officer amounted to criminal contempt.

5.6 In Sukhdev Singh (supra), the Supreme Court placed reliance upon the judgment of the Privy Council in Andre Paul Terence Ambard v. The Attorney - General of Trinidad and Tabago, AIR 1936 PC 141, and held that the proceedings under the Contempt of Courts Act are quasi-criminal in nature, and, therefore, the orders passed therein will be treated as the orders passed in criminal cases.

5.7 In Ram Kishan v. Sh. Tarun Bajaj & Ors., (2014) 16 SCC 204, the Supreme Court held that the purpose of the contempt proceedings is to protect the respect and majesty of the court of law in a democratic society.

5.8 With respect to the procedure to be followed in criminal contempt, the Supreme Court has consistently held that criminal contempt proceedings are essentially quasi-criminal in nature with the requirement of standard of proof similar as in any other criminal proceeding.74 In the case of Sahdeo @ Sahdeo Singh v. State of U.P. & Ors., (2010) 3 SCC 705, the Supreme Court while reaffirming that the High Court can suo motu initiate contempt proceedings, once again, emphasized on the need for the standard of proof in criminal contempt to be similar to that of criminal cases.

In Ashok Kumar Aggarwal v. Neeraj Kumar & Anr. 2014 3 SCC 602, the Court further held that a breach alleged to be criminal contempt shall have to be established beyond reasonable doubt.

Review of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 Back

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