What are the offences and punishments under this law ?

Last updated on Apr 8, 2022

When one is held guilty of contempt, they have the option to apologize to the court and save themselves from any other punishments.((  Proviso to Section 12(1), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.)) However, such an apology should be genuine and not merely a ruse to save oneself from punishment.(( MC Mehta v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 463.)) 

Punishment for Contempt of Court

The punishment for civil and criminal contempt is the same. In situations where the court is not satisfied with the apology or if the person is unwilling to apologize, the court can punish the offender for contempt. The punishment is fine of up to Rs 2,000, or jail time up to 6 months, or with both. However, this limit is only applicable for the High Courts and not for the Supreme Courts. For the Supreme Court, this limit will only serve as a guide to the punishments that can be given and they can increase the fine amount.(( Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr v. State of Gujarat & Ors, (2004) 4 SCC 158.))

Moreover, the court has the option not to punish the offender if the court is of the opinion that the person has not substantially prejudiced the court.(( Section 13(a), Contempt of Court Act, 1971.))

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What does the law say you can/cannot do?

While anything that lowers the authority of the courts can be considered as contempt, there are certain exceptions given in the law. These include innocent publication and distribution of matter, fair and accurate reporting of a judicial proceeding, fair criticism of judicial actions, complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts and truth.

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court is any action or writing, meant to lower the authority of a court or a Judge or to interfere with the course of justice or the lawful process of the court.

Where can contempt of court happen?

Contempt of court can happen anywhere - inside court, outside court, on social media. etc. Further, contempt proceedings can be taken up by either the Supreme Court, High Court, or Tribunals. However, the procedure to initiate proceedings will differ based on the place where the alleged contempt happens.

Who are the authorities under the law?

The Constitution of India, 1950 empowers the Supreme Court and High Courts to have the powers to punish for contempt.

Is there a right to appeal against a contempt of court decision?

The law only allows a person to appeal against the decision once. If the appeal fails, no further remedy is present under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.  However, the Constitution of India allows an appeal against any judgment of any court, including the High Court. This is done through a unique form of a petition, known as the ‘Special Leave Petition’.

How do you file a complaint for contempt?

The procedure to file a contempt petition depends upon the rules of the respective High Courts and the Supreme Courts.