Criminal Contempt of court in India |concept

Today, the Contempt of court is the most discussed topic in India. But very few people know about it. The issue is not limited to insulting a judge. However, It is important to know exactly what the concept of Contempt of Court is and when Contempt of Court takes place.


A) Introduction –

Contempt of court is a tool to protect the judiciary from the wilful attacks. It is important to keep the judiciary away from malafide criticism which lowers its authority.

In India, a law was enacted in 1971 called the Contempt of Court Act, which provides for

when contempt of court occurs and what the punishment will be for it. 

This Act does not apply to Nyaya Panchayats or other village Courts. 

Article 129 in The constitution of India gives power to the supreme court of India to punish for contempt of itself. 

similarly, Article 215 in The constitution of India also gives power to High courts to punish for contempt of itself. 

According to the contempt of court act, 1971 Contempt of court means civil contempt and criminal contempt.

B) Kinds of Contempt of Court in India

Contempt of Court may be civil or criminal.

  • Civil contempt
  • Criminal contempt

Civil Contempt means

  • wilful disobedience to
  • any judgment,
  • decree,
  • direction,
  • order,
  • a writ or other processes of a court or
  • wilful breach of
  • an undertaking to a court.

Criminal Contempt Means

The publication

  • whether by words,
  • spoken or
  • written, or
  • by signs, or
  • by visible representation, or
  • otherwise of any matter or
  • the doing of any other act

whatsoever which

  • (i) scandalizes or
  • tends to scandalize, or
  • lowers or
  • tends to lower the authority of,
  • any court;


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


  • (iii) Interferes or
  • tends to interfere with, or
  • obstructs or
  • tends to obstruct,
  • the administration of justice
  • in any other manner;

C) What is not contempt under the Act –

1) Innocent publication – (Sec.3)

If a person who does not know any proceeding to be pending in court then such person cannot be held guilty for contempt of court for such,

innocent publication and distribution of the same which tends to interfere in the course of justice.

The case is pending means which is not heard and finally decided.

But under this section (sec.3) exceptions are provided by the provison,

as follows-

i) publication published contrary to the rules under sec.3 of Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867

ii) publication of newspaper which is contrary to the rules under sec.5 of the above Act of 1867.

2) Report of Judicial Proceeding- (Sec.4)

A person is not held guilty for contempt of court for publication of a fair and

accurate report of the judicial proceeding.

3) Fair Criticism -(Sec.5)

Fair Criticism through comments on merits of any case which has been heard and

finally decided by a person cannot be held guilty for contempt of court.

4) Complaint against the presiding officer – (Sec.6)

Any statement made by a person about the presiding officer of a subordinate court in good faith to any other subordinate court or the High Court to which it is subordinate in that State, cannot be held as contempt of court.

5) Publication of In-camera proceedings when not contempt -(Sec.7)

A person is not held guilty for contempt of court for publication of a fair and accurate report of a judicial proceeding in chambers or camera.

Also, a person cannot be held guilty for contempt of court for fair & accurate reporting of the summary text of an order by a Court.

But it can be contempt under the following circumstances –

i) if the publication is contrary to any law for time being in force.

ii) if the Court expressly prohibits such publication on the ground of public policy or in the exercise of its powers

iii) where the proceeding is in the chamber or in camera for security reason of state or connected with public order

iv) if the information relates to secret process invention or discovery which is an issue in judicial proceedings

6) Contempt not punishable in certain cases – (Sec.13)

Under Sec. 13 of the Act, it is provided that Court cannot impose a sentence under this Act for contempt if it is not satisfied that nature of such contempt is such as

which substantially interferes or tends to substantially interfere in the due course of justice.

This section also lays down a very significant element of defence in contempt proceedings. It is called as “truth as a defence” by Counsels in such proceedings while arguing in proceedings, or also by authors in their respective literature works.

Sec.13(b) provides truth as a defence as the court may permit it if the Court is satisfied that

it is in the public interest and invoking such defence is for bonafide.

D) Cognizance – (Sec.15)

In the case of Criminal Contempt (other than sec.14) the Supreme Court or High Court can take action –

1) on its own motion or

2) on a motion made by Advocate General or

3) any other person with consent in writing to Advocate General.

In case of criminal contempt of “Subordinate Court”, the High Court can take action on reference to it by Subordinate Court or on a motion made by Advocate General and in case of Union Territory by such Law Officer as Central Govt. has directed.

E) Punishment for Contempt – (Sec.12)

Contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months

or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees or with both.

It is also provided that the accused can be discharged or punishment can be remitted on apology by

accused to the satisfaction of the Court.

F) Limitation Period – (Sec.20)

No Court can initiate any proceedings after expiry of the period of one year from

the date on which contempt is committed.

G) Appeal – (Sec.19)

An appeal can be preferred as of right from any order of High Court –

a) where the order is of single Judge then appeal to a bench of two judges of the Court.

b) where the order is that of a bench, then appeal to the Supreme Court.

If Appeal is against the decision of single Judge and is to a bench of High Court the period is thirty days, from date of order.

If an appeal is to the Supreme Court, then within sixty days from date of order.

What is the punishment for contempt of court in India?

As per section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, the Contempt of Court punished with either 6-month simple imprisonment or Rs 2000 fine or Both.

Conclusion –

Criminal contempt of court in India refers to actions that disrespect or undermine the authority, dignity, or impartiality of the judiciary. Such actions can include making false statements about judges, obstructing court proceedings, or disobeying court orders. The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, governs this offense and distinguishes between civil and criminal contempt. Criminal contempt is a criminal offense, punishable by fines or imprisonment. Its primary purpose is to uphold the sanctity of the judicial system and protect the integrity of the courts. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between safeguarding judicial dignity and protecting freedom of speech and expression.

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