With knowledge, comes the power to reason and to criticize injustice. But at times, the reasoning capabilities can in turn lead to a country’s way towards destruction through people’s disbelief in the very popular and efficient working mechanism of the country. The court is, one such organ of the country that can choke the country to death if it ever became corrupt or disorganized.
Hence, to keep it organized, efficient and productive and to control the not-needed criticisms, the concept of ‘Contempt of Courts Act’ is much needed. Fortunately, India is one of the few legal systems where contempt of court is still prevalent and efficient. The circumstances are indeed happier inside our country as we all know that Judiciary would definitely assist the people in need, even if the other two organs of the Government give up to extend the hand of help.
CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT: ORIGIN AND HISTORY
The concept of Contempt of Court is eight hundred years old through the common law doctrine, ‘Contemptus Curiae’. It follows from the common law principle in England which States to protect the judicial and decision-making power of the King. Later, the King appointed several judges who had exercised this right of decision-making on behalf of the king. The King since was not in the process of decision-making, many people went on openly to disobey the judgment passed and since the judges were appointed directly by the King, disobedience actually meant disobedience of Kings’ orders. This over time became punishable to the people disobeying their verdict or directives. This was first mentioned in the laws of King Henry-1, where it was called ‘Contempt of Kings’ Court’. Therefore, by the end of the 12th-century Contempt of Court was a valid form of punishment to people who went on to flagrantly disobey the orders of the Kings’ appointed judges.
In the late 1960s, one of the most deliberated contentions arose when the judges were forced to rethink if newspaper articles do, constitute a contempt of court. Thankfully, the recommendations given by the Lord Phillimore Committee suggested not to involve newspaper articles and journalists under the ambit of this act. Despite the immediate attempt to rectify the anomalies, The European Court of Human Rights was of the view that the UK’s contempt law is not in compliance with the principles of free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention. (Sunday Times vs. V.K.) However, the court argued that because of protecting such rights the UK Courts cannot allow disobedience to the judgment and breach of its order stating that these rights are already subjected to reasonable restrictions.
CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971
With the introduction of this act, the limits and powers of certain courts were defined. It laid down the proper pathway as to what constitutes contempt and what punishment can be announced. Section 2(a) of this act went on to define what are the different contempts, firstly, Civil Contempt which was defined as the willful disobedience to any judgment or decree passed by a court, and secondly, Criminal Contempts which was defined as the publication of any material, in writing, or through spoken words, or signs that tend to scandalize or lower the authority of the court in the eyes of the public.
Following are the essentials for contempt proceedings in India :
- Willful disobedience of any order, judgment, or decree passed by any Court of the Republic, or
Scandalize or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court, or
Biasness interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any type of Judicial proceedings, or
Obstructs or tends to obstruct, interfere or tend to interfere with the administration of justice in any manner.
The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is undoubtedly, the most revised and the most refined statute in our country for contemnors who go on to criticize the working of the Judiciary. The Sanyal committee indeed tried their level best to make this flawless, meeting the demands of the Judiciary and the modern-day criticisms which happen to be in a surge, with education and literacy coming all the way to people which in turn, increases their reasoning capacity.