The law of contempt is the subject of this article, along with the arguments against the idea of criminal contempt. It also addresses an advocate’s ethical behaviour towards the court and if the subjective determination of what is criminal disobedience may be regarded as a breach of professional ethics in the legal profession.


An action or inaction meant to obstruct the proper administration of justice. When someone acts disrespectfully towards the court’s authority, justice, or dignity, they are being in contempt of the court. Being disrespectful to the court’s officials while they are present or recalcitrantly disobeying a court order are both considered acts of contempt of court and subject to the associated sanctions.

Contempt of Court means: The interpretation clause is found in Section 2 of the act. Thus, Contempt of Court is defined. Contempt of Court is defined as either civil or criminal contempt in Section 2 (a). This signifies that the straight jacket formula has not been addressed in this definition. The definition is inclusive in nature.

A person commits the crime of contempt of courts when they behave in a way that contradicts or rejects the authority, justice, or dignity of a court of law and/or its personnel. There are two major categories of contempt of court:

  • Disrespecting judges and other judges in the courtroom.
  • Deliberately disobeying a court order.

What sorts of court contempt are there?

There are two sorts of court contempt:

Civil Contempt of Court:- [1] Failure to abide by a court order is frequently a factor in civil contempt. Judges utilise civil contempt penalties to force such a person to obey a court order they have disobeyed.

Criminal Contempt of Court:- Criminal contempt of court charges is punitive in nature, which means they are intended to punish the offender regardless of the outcome of the underlying action in order to deter future acts of contempt.

What is the penalty for disrespecting the court? 

A person may be found in contempt of court if they defy a lawful court order, disrespect the judge, interfere with the proceedings in a disorderly manner, or conceal or disclose information that is believed to compromise the fairness of the judicial system. Being found guilty of contempt of court can result in fines or jail terms, making it a process crime.[2] Judges in common law systems often have greater discretion to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems.

What is the penalty in India for contempt of court?

India’s High Court and Supreme Court are each given the authority to impose penalties for violating court orders. In accordance with Section 12 of the 1971 Contempt of Court Act of the Indian Penal Code, contempt of court may be punished by simple incarceration for a period that not exceeds six months, by a fine that may not exceed two thousand rupees, or by both.


Former judges and attorneys have harshly criticized the contempt of court provision because it restricts free speech, has a broad definition that leaves room for abuse, and can be used to insulate the judiciary from criticism. Markandeya Katju, a retired Supreme Court justice and the former head of the Press Council of India argued for changes to the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act in order to improve media coverage of legal and judicial issues. The Indian Law Commission was given a mandate by the Indian government in March 2018 to re-examine Section 2 of the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act, which establishes the crime of contempt. The Commission was tasked with reviewing a proposal that argued that the crime of “scandalising the court,” or criminal contempt, should not be included in the definition of contempt of court and should instead be restricted to instances of civil contempt, or disobedience of court orders.


The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 provides defences that an advocate may use in court. These are sections 3 to 8. As stated in Section 3 of the 1971 Contempt of Courts Act, publishing and disseminating information in good faith is not considered contempt. According to the law, if someone publishes something that impedes or could impede the administration of justice, they are not in contempt of court if they were unaware that the case was still pending. For someone to be considered guilty of contempt, knowledge of the pending matter is a necessary prerequisite.

Therefore, in order for a publication or distribution to qualify as innocent under this clause, it must meet the requirement:

(i) The person who was accused of committing an offence had no cause to suspect that a proceeding was ongoing at the time of publication.

(ii) At the time of publishing, the proceedings were not ongoing.

(iii) The person accused of disseminating the offensive publication had no grounds to believe, at the time the material was distributed, that the publication contained offensive content or something that would have been considered to be in contempt of court.


Civil contempt[3] is required because wilfully disobedient litigants who disobey court orders cannot be excused without substantially impairing the execution of justice and public confidence in the system. Rule of Law cannot survive without the public having faith and confidence in the courts. But experts contend that the act should be rationalised, if not entirely repealed, in order to eliminate criminal contempt. This is because, in violation of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it frequently serves to restrict the right to free speech and expression. The Constitution of India, Article 19. Arun Shourie and Attorney Prashant Bhushan contend that “scandalising the authority of the Court” in the context of criminal contempt breaches speech rights and is obviously arbitrary. They contend that the term violates the Doctrine of Overbreadth since it is so broad that it includes reasonable criticism as well. It doesn’t belong in a democracy, in their opinion, because it is based on colonial presumptions and objects.

Author’s Name: Muskan Kumari (Army Law College, Pune)




Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates

Whoops, you're not connected to Mailchimp. You need to enter a valid Mailchimp API key.