For the sake of the administration of justice and in order to maintain the decency and order of judicial proceedings, that this extensive and summary power is confided to a Judge. To maintain law and order, the judges have and must have, power at once to deal with those who offend against it.
In India, the concept of Contempt of Court is defined in Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 which has broadly describe it as civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt consists in willful disobedience to the judgments, orders or other processes of the court. Any willful disobedience to the order of the court to do or abstain from doing any act, or the breach of any undertaking given to the court, is prima facie a civil contempt. Disobedience to the summons issued from the court is also civil contempt. Criminal contempt is criminal in nature. They include outrages on Judges in open court, interference with persons attending court, defiant disobedience to the Judge in court, libels on Judges or courts or their officers, insolence to Judges or comments in court on their decisions, interfering with witnesses or officers of the court, creating a disturbance in court, and any publication which offends the dignity of the court or tends to prejudice the course of justice in any pending trial or litigation.
Similarly, a witness who, without lawful excuse, refuses to be sworn or, being sworn, refuses, or who prevaricates, or who remains in court after the witnesses have been ordered out of court, is guilty of contempt in the face of the court and may be fined and imprisoned. In civil proceedings a witness may decline to answer on the ground that he may incriminate himself or on the grounds of privilege. If a witness declines to answer on the former ground, the court must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for him to apprehend charges. While it is clear that the refusal by a witness to answer a question can constitute in facie contempt, it is necessary to show that the question was relevant.
Apex Court in Jhareswar Prasad Paul & Anr. vs. Tarak Nath Ganguly & Ors. (2002) 5 SCC 352, in paragraph 11, opined thus:
“11. … The court exercising contempt jurisdiction is not entitled to enter into questions that have not been dealt with and decided in the judgment or order, violation of which is alleged by the applicant. The court has to consider the direction issued in the judgment or order and not to consider the question as to what the judgment or order should have contained.”
Apex Court in Ram Kishan vs. Tarun Bajaj & Ors (2014) 16 SCC 204 held that:-
- It is a wellsettled principle of law that if two interpretations are possible, and if the action is not contumacious, a contempt proceeding would not be maintainable
In Subodh Gopal Bose v. State of Bihar AIR 1969 Pat 72, it was held that even the State is subject to the jurisdiction of the court in the matter of injunction and its officers are guilty of contempt in case of disobedience and violation of the order of injunction, so long as it exists. It would not affect the liability of the State even if it had acted on a piece of wrong legal advice.
Priya Gupta and another v. Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and others have clearly held that if there is a direction of the court and it has not been complied with or there is willful disobedience then, the contempt petition would lie. Paragraph 23 of the report states as follows: –
“23. … The sine qua non to initiation of proceedings under the Act is an order or judgment or direction of a court and its willful disobedience. Once thee ingredients are satisfied, the machinery under the Act can be invoked by a party or even by the court suo motu. …”
If Contempt petitioner be relegated to the remedy of execution then contempt petition would not be maintainable as held in the matters of Niaz Mohammad and others v. State of Haryana and others, R.N. Dey and others v. Bhagyabati Pramanik and others, Kanwar Singh Saini v. High Court of Delhi and the decision of this Court in the matter of Itwar Singh v. Ganeshram and another
Section 20 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 deals with the limitation for the action of Contempt. It states that no court shall initiate any proceedings of contempt in two conditions:
- Either the proceedings are on his own motion, or,
- After the period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed.
R v. Almon
A court of justice without power to vindicate its own dignity, to enforce obedience to its mandate, to protect its officers, or to shield those who are entrusted to its care, would be an anomaly, which could not be permitted to exist in any civilized community.”
The jurisdiction to punish for contempt is an inalienable attribute of and inheres in, every superior court of record. This is the jurisdiction of necessity incident to the court of justice.