Truth was added as a valid defence only recently under the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006. It is a valid defence, if it is in public interest and was invoked in good faith.

What does the law say you can/cannot do?

Last updated on Apr 8, 2022

While anything that lowers the authority of the courts can be considered as contempt, there are certain exceptions given in the law. 

Innocent publication and distribution of matter

Under the law, if a publication, like a book or an article, tends to prejudice any pending court proceeding, such as publicly discussing unsubstantiated evidence, it will amount to criminal contempt.(( Rachapudi Subba Rao v Advocate General, Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1981 SC 755; Read with Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Sections 2(c) (ii) & (iii))) However, the law itself gives certain exceptions where a publication will not amount to contempt on the grounds of prejudicing a pending proceeding. They are:

  • If at the time of publication, the publisher had no reason to believe that such a case was pending.(( Section 3(1), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.))
  • If no court proceeding was pending at the time of publication.(( Section 3(2), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.)) 
  • If the person is in charge of distributing something that may be seen as contempt and they did not know that it contained anything that would be prejudicial to an ongoing court proceeding.(( Section 3(3), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.))
  •  However, this defence of ‘innocent distribution’ is not available for the press as the law gives certain criteria to be met for publishing books,(( Section 3, Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.)) papers,(( Section 3, Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.)) and newspapers(( Section 5, Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.)). A person found distributing books, papers, or newspapers that have not met these criteria, will be guilty of contempt.(( Proviso to Section 3(3), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.))

Fair and accurate reporting of a judicial proceeding

In India, trials and other judicial proceedings are generally held in open court and are subject to public scrutiny. This is required for a healthy, objective, and fair administration of justice.(( Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v State of Maharashtra, AIR 1967 SC 1.)) This system relies on numerous reporters that accurately report the daily proceedings in a court. The law protects such legal reporting, provided that it is fair and accurate.((  Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Section 4.)) 

The terms ‘fair and accurate, does not mean that the report should be a word-to-word reproduction of the proceedings. Rather, it should relay what has happened in the court,(( Borrie & Lowe, The Law of Contempt, LexisNexis Butterworths, 3rd Edn, p 270.)) and should not misrepresent the court proceedings before the public.(( Roach v. Garvan, (1742) 2 Atk 469.)) Unfair reporting that misleads the readers, is not protected by the law and would amount to contempt.(( E.T. Sen v E. Narayanan, AIR 1969 Del 201, at 213.)) For example, reporting or quoting an incorrect statement which was not made by a judge on social media.


In situations of in-camera trials, which take place in a closed room inside a court, certain forms of reporting may amount to contempt. Some examples of in-camera trials are cases of rape,(( Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Section 327(2))) matrimonial disputes,(( Special Marriage Act, 1954, Section 33 for example.))  etc, In such in-camera proceedings, the reporting of the proceedings, even if they are fair and accurate, will amount to contempt if:

  • Such publication is contrary to or against any existing law.(( Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Section 7(1)(a).)) For example, reporting of the proceedings in rape trials or child sexual abuse trials are prohibited by law, and a person has to obtain the permission of the court in case they want to still report such matters.(( Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Section 327(3).))
  • The court has explicitly prohibited such reporting.(( Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Section 7(1)(b).)) For example, in the evidence stage of a case involving national security or terrorism.
  • The court is conducting in-camera proceedings for reasons connected with public order or security of the State.(( Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Section 7(1)(c).))
  • The information published relates to a secret process, discovery or invention which is an issue in proceedings. For example, in patent objection matters.(( Section 7(1)(d), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.))

Fair criticism of judicial Actions

If a case has been finally heard and decided by the court, a person will be allowed to publish fair comments on the merits of that particular case.(( Section 5, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.)) Comments about the judgment itself, and other comments about the merits of the case, are an exception to contempt of court.(( Samaraditya Pal, The Law of Contempt-Contempt of Courts and Legislatures, Chapter 5, Defenses, Punishments, Procedures, Limitation and Conferment of Rule Making Power (5th edn, 2012).)) Since judgments are public documents, and the public acts of a Judge are subject to public scrutiny , no one can prohibit fair comments on either of them.(( Rama Dayal Markarha v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1978 SC 921, at 927.)) However, the exact test for ‘fair comment’ is unclear and will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. For example, misquoting the judge or making false statements about judges would not amount to ‘fair comment’. Additionally, such comments have to be made without any bad intentions, and without the motive to bring down the image of the judiciary or impair the administration of justice itself.(( In re: Ajay Kumar Pandey, (1998) 7 SCC 248.))

Complaint against presiding officers of Subordinate Courts

If a person has made a complaint against a presiding officer of a Subordinate Court, to either the High Court or another Subordinate Court, such a complaint will not amount to contempt. However, such a complaint has to be made in good faith.(( Section 6, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.)) For example, if a person files a complaint against a District Judge because of a legitimate grievance.


Saying or publishing the truth for the public good may be treated by the court as an exception to contempt.(( Section 13(b), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.)) This is similar to the defence of truth in defamation, but the court has the option to decide whether or not to accept such a remark.

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Related Resources

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’.

What are the offences and punishments under this law ?

The punishment for civil and criminal contempt is the same. When one is held guilty of contempt, they have the option to apologize to the court and save themselves from any other punishments. However, such an apology should be genuine and not merely a ruse to save oneself from punishment.

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.