Law of Contempt Of Court

The role of the courts is to administer justice—fairly, efficiently and with authority. Contempt of court is any conduct that interferes with the ability of the courts to perform
their role. This can include conduct inside a courtroom, such as a witness refusing to answer questions, or conduct outside a courtroom, such as publishing information about
an accused person that has not been heard in court.

The offence of contempt of court is often described in case law as sui generis, which means that it belongs to a species all of its own and so is unique. Under the common law, it is not possible to define with precision what conduct might be liable to punishment as a contempt of court. Courts’ contempt powers come from its inherent power to protect the administration of justice.

Contempt of court is the area of law which deals with behaviour which might affect court proceedings. It takes many different forms, ranging from disrupting court hearings to disobeying court orders to publishing prejudicial information which might make the trial unfair. If someone commits a contempt of court, they can be punished, although the procedures for deciding whether they are guilty and for punishing them are currently different from those used for normal crimes.


Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981(UK), strict liability contempt by publication (discussed above) only applies to publications. The Act defines publication to include speech, writing, programmes (and other similar broadcasts) and any other form of communication. These publications must be “addressed to the public at large or any section of the public”.

Contempt in the face of the court

Contempt in the face of the court concerns misbehaviour, usually in the courtroom itself, that disrupts or shows disrespect towards the court or challenges the authority of the court. However, there is no precise legal definition of contempt in the face of the court.

Examples of contempts in the face of the court include:

(1) assaulting anyone in court;
(2) insulting the judge in court;
(3) throwing a dead rat at the court clerk (a live rat would also count!);

(4) wearing offensive clothing or not wearing any clothing at all in court;
(5) refusing to answer a question when ordered to do so by the judge; and
(6) creating a disturbance elsewhere (such as in the corridor outside the
courtroom) so that the court hearing is disturbed.

[UK Law Commission Consultation Paper No 209]

Uncertainty of scope

Under the common law, it is not possible to define with precision what conduct might be liable to punishment as a contempt of court. In 1906, Justice Cussen in the Supreme Court set out a broad definition of contempt of court which has since been cited with approval many times, including by the High Court:

Its essence is action or inaction amounting to an interference with, or obstruction to, or having a tendency to interfere with or obstruct the due administration of justice, using
that term in a broad sense.

Following from this definition, Victorian courts have, in general terms, held that:

The offence of contempt will be established if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged contemnor wilfully engaged in conduct and that conduct had a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice.
It is not necessary to prove that the alleged contemnor had an intention to interfere with the administration of justice.
It is not necessary to prove that the conduct did in fact interfere with the course of justice.

Case law and academic texts list and describe general categories of contempt. However, these do not provide an exhaustive catalogue of the ‘many and varied’ ways in which a person may be found to be in contempt of court. At its highest, a list of the categories of contempt is a list of thematically grouped examples of conduct which the courts have found, in the past, to be an interference with the proper administration of justice and therefore punishable as contempt. Conduct which constitutes contempt of court may fit within multiple categories or it may not fit within any established category but still be regarded as contempt. [Victoria Law reform commission: General issues with the law of contempt of court]

Victoria Law reform commission collected some common form of conduct as contemptuous

• Contempt by conduct that interferes with a court proceeding—this includes disruptive and abusive behaviour in court, and witnesses refusing to answer questions. (Now known as contempt in the face of the court.)
• Contempt by non-compliance with a court order or undertaking—this involves
disobeying orders made by a court or undertakings given to a court. (Now known as
disobedience contempt.)
• Contempt by publishing material prejudicial to legal proceedings— this includes
publishing material that could make a trial unfair, for example by publishing
information not before the court that may influence a juror to believe the accused was
guilty. (Now known as sub judice contempt.)
• Contempt by publishing material undermining public confidence in the judiciary or courts—this includes publishing material that makes false claims about the integrity of a judge or magistrate. (Now known as scandalising contempt.)
• Interferences with and reprisals against those involved with a court proceeding—this includes threatening or harassing people involved in court proceedings to influence
the proceedings, or punishing them for what they do or say in court.

What is the purpose of the law of contempt?

The purpose of the law of contempt is to protect the proper administration of justice. This concept is important but difficult to define. It requires that:
• People have unhindered access to an independent, impartial and competent court
system to determine their legal rights and liabilities.
• The courts determine cases in accordance with the rule of law and uphold the right to
a fair hearing.
• There is public confidence in, and respect for, the authority of that system.

This in turn requires that:

• The independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary are protected.
• Except in unusual cases where the law restricts access to the court or restricts the
reporting of proceedings, the court is open to the public and news media,10 including
access to court files and written submissions.
• Cases are heard in an orderly and efficient manner, free from disruption.11
• Cases are decided on the basis of the evidence before the court and free from outside

• Witnesses are able to be compelled to attend and give evidence so decisions can be
made on the best evidence.
• Jury verdicts are based only on properly adduced evidence after free, frank, and
confidential jury discussions, and the finality of verdicts is protected.
• Those with duties to perform in the court, including witnesses, jurors and legal
practitioners, perform those duties in a safe environment and free from interference
and harassment,15 and do so fairly and honestly and in accordance with the directions
of the court and any undertakings given to the court.
• Orders made by the courts are complied with and enforced. [ Victoria Law reform commission Report on Contempt  of Court]

  • Contempt is a wrong done to the public by weakening authority of Courts which exist for their good - Bathina Ramakrishna Reddy Versus State of Madras- When the act of defaming a Judge is calculated to obstruct or interfere with the due course of justice or proper administration of law, it would certainly amount to contempt. The offence of contempt is really a wrong done to the public by weakening the authority and influence of Courts of law which exist for their good.
  • CONTEMPT OF COURT IN CONNECTION WITH COURT REPORTING: LAW COMMISSION OF UK-2014 - This report looks at the accurate contemporary reporting of the content of legal proceedings taking place in public in criminal courts. More specifically, this report focuses on the power of the Crown Court to order that such reporting be postponed to avoid prejudice to court proceedings. We are concerned here with all court reporting, whether broadcast (on television, radio or over the internet) or published (electronically or in print format) and whether by accredited press representatives or others such as bloggers.
  • Every criticism is not contempt of Court - In the words of Lord Atkin-“Justice is not a cloistered virtue.” Any and every criticism is not contempt. One of the tests is, to use the words of Mukherjea, J. in Brahma […]
  • H. P. Singh Vs Thakur Prasad Tewari an another [SC 1950 December] - Keywords : Ignorance of contempt  order Notice   AIR 1953 SC 436 : (1953) CriLJ SC 1837 (SUPREME COURT OF INDIA) H. P. Singh Appellant Versus Thakur Prasad Tewari an another Respondent […]
  • If Bar Association pass resolutions to boycott Court it amounts to interfering with the course of justice - Even if a lawyer or the Bar Association feels that a Judge has misconduct himself, the boycott cannot be resorted to. Only such remedies as are provided under law can only be […]
  • In re: Arundhati Roy – 06/03/2002 - As the respondent has not shown any repentance or regret or remorse, no leinent view should be taken in the matter. However, showing the magnanimity of law by keeping in mind that the respondent is a woman, and hoping that better sense and wisdom shall dawn upon the respondent in the future to serve the cause of art and literature by her creative skill and imagination, we feel that the ends of justice would be met if she is sentenced to symbolic imprisonment besides paying a fine of ` 2000/-.
  • IN RE: HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE C.S. KARNAN - Ever since the initiation of these proceedings, he has been expressing further disrespect to this Court, he has also been making press statements with abject impunity. However, after the last order, he […]
  • IN RE: SANJIV DATTA AND OTHERS - The legal profession is a solemn and serious occupation. It is a noble calling and all those who belong to it are its honourable members. Although the entry to the profession can […]
  • Lawyer cursed CHC judge to be infected by Corona-V and threatened to doom his future faced Criminal Contempt-23/03/2020 - The conduct of Mr. Adhikary, apart from being abominable, prima facie amounts to ‘criminal contempt’ within the meaning of section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court’s Act, 1971. Therefore, I have no other option but issue a suo­motu Rule for contempt against Mr. Adhikary.
  • Pakistan Supreme Court convicted Mr. Talal Chaudhry, State Minster in Suo-moto Contempt proceeding - Mr. Talal Chaudhry made speeches on 24.01.2018 and 27.01.2018 wherein he by his words, gestures and tone not only defamed and scandalized the Court and its Judges but also tended to bring the Court and its […]
  • SHRI C.K. DAPHTARY AND OTHERS Vs. SHRI O.P. GUPTA AND OTHERS - A petition under Article 129 of the Constitution of India “We have decided to be lenient because such gross contempts of this Court are happily rare, but any future gross contempt of […]
  • Sudama Singh & Ors. Etc. Vs. Deepak Mohan Spolia & Ors. Etc[SC 2017 DECEMBER] - KEYWORDS:Contempt of Courts Act- DATE:-DECEMBER 12, 2017- “The High Court went wrong in referring only to paragraph 62 of the judgment and not to the other relevant considerations leading to the decision […]
  • The Companies Act, 2013 [SCHEDULE] - KEYWORDS:- CORPORATE LAW The Companies Act, 2013[CLICK] Schedule I (See sections 4 and 5) Table-A Memorandum of Association of a Company Limited by Shares 1st The name of the company is “…………………………….Limited / […]
  • The Rules To Regulate Proceedings For Contempt Of The Supreme Court 1975 - Published Vide G.S.R. 142, dated 1.2.1975, published in the Gazette of India, dated 1.2.1975. In exercise of the powers under section 23 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 read with article […]
  • When contempt proceeding would not be maintainable - It is a well settled principle of law that if two interpretations are possible of the order which is ambiguous, a contempt proceeding would not be maintainable.
  • Willful disobedience – means - KULDIP RASTOGI AND ANOTHER  Vs. VISHVA NATH KHANNA - Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 — Section — 12(3), 13 — 'Willful' disobedience — Meaning of 'willful' has the same meaning in the law of contempt as in other branches of the law. no reason why in the matter of contempt it should have some special or peculiar meaning, the ordinary meaning of willful,' as defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is that for which compulsion or ignorance or accident cannot be Pleaded as an excuse, intentional, deliberate ..........'.

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