Contempt of court may be said to be constituted into disrespect or disregard, or to interfere with or prejudice parties litigation or their witness during the litigation.
Lord Hadwick in 1742 made a three-fold classification of contempt:
a. Scandalizing the court.
b. Abusing the parties who are concerned in the cases, in the presence of the court.
c. Prejudicing the public against persons before the case is heard.
HISTORY OF CONTEMPT OF COURT-INDIA
Contempt of courts of record was introduced into India by the British following the establishment of the Courts of Record in the 19 th century. This was put on a firm basis in India by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926 was felt on the account of the differences of opinion between the Madras and Bombay High Court on the one hand and Calcutta High Court on the other regarding the protection of subordinate courts. The act did not contain any provision with regard to contempt of court subordinate to courts other than high courts, that is, the courts subordinate to Chief courts and judicial commissioners. The Act also did not deal with the extra territorial jurisdiction of High courts in matters of contempt.
The contempt of court Act, 1926 was not found adequate and as such the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 was enacted. From the statement of objects and reasons which led to the enactments of the contempt of courts Act, 1952 it is obvious that this law was made as there was no specific provision of law which enabled a High court to exercise this power in respect of contempt committed beyond its territorial jurisdiction.
CONTEMPT OF COURT UNDER THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM
Is a act of disobedience or disrespect towards the judicial branch of the government, or an interference with its orderly process. It is an offence against a court of justice or a person to whom the judicial functions of the sovereignty have been delegated. The American jurisprudence defines contempt of court as follows:
Despising the authority of the judge or dignity of the court.
Any conduct which tends to bring the authority and administration of law into disrespect or disregard.
Any conduct which interferes or prejudices the parties to a litigation or their witnesses during litigation.
Any conduct which otherwise tends to impede, embarrass or obstruct a court or a judge in the discharge of its or his duties.
A statute may define contempt but it can never be exhaustive.
POWER TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT
Supreme court is declared a Court of Record under Article 129. As a court of record it has all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for its contempt. Under Article 129 and 142 of the constitution of the supreme court has been vested with power to punish for contempt of court including the power to punish for contempt of itself. In case of contempt other than the contempt referred to in Rule 2, Part I of the rules to regulate proceedings for contempt of the supreme court 1975.
The court may take action (a) suo moto, or (b) on a petition made by attorney general or solicitor general or (c) on a petition made by any person and in the case of a criminal contempt with the consent in writing of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General.
FIRST CASE OF CONTEMPT IN INDIA
In this case in 1954 the members of the Executive committee of the District Bar Association at Muzaffarnagar within the state of U.P made certain allegations against a judicial office Mr. Kanhaya Lal Mehra and a Revenue Officer Mr. Latta Prasad. A resolution was passed in the meeting of the Bar Associations that complaints should be filed to the superior authorities against the misconduct of these judges.
The judicial officer does not record evidence in cases tried before him properly, that in all the criminal matters that are transferred to the court, where the accused are already in bail, does not give them time to furnish fresh sureties with the result he is sent to jail. He is not accommodating to lawyer as a whole.
The revenue officer follows the highly illegal procedure of leaving 2 cases at a time, wherein records the evidence of one case and ask the court clerk to do so with the other. Also, he is highly temperamental and constantly threatens the lawyers with contempt of court.
It is now our considered opinion that the two officers are thoroughly incompetent in law, not inspire confidence in their judicial work. They state wrong facts when passing judgments and are overbearing and discourteous to the litigant public and the lawyers alike.
The High court found the lawyers to be prima facie in contempt of court and fined them Rs. 300/-.
TYPES OF CONTEMPT OF COURT
Contempt can be criminal or civil.
Criminal contempt involves an intentional interference with the administration of justice, while civil contempt is disobedience to orders or judgments of the court with only knowledge of the order or judgment, not intent to interfere, being needed.
Civil contempt requires only a preponderance of the evidence while criminal contempt requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. Another significant distinction arises from whether the contempt occurs “in the face of the court” or outside it; contempt beyond the courtroom much harder to prove.
Section 2 (b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the essential ingredient is ‘willful’ disobedience and not any and every disobedience due to various reasons such as delay due to unavoidable circumstances or inadvertence. It has to be proved that the disobedience was ‘wilful’. A Civil contempt involves disobedience to a court’s order affecting the rights of other parties to that order basically denying the rightful fruits of the suit to the other party.
MD. IKRAM HUSSAIN V. STATE of U.P
The Court asked the appellant to produce his daughter in a matter of Habeas Corpus. He made false excuses and did not produce her. He was found guilty of contempt.
UNION OF INDIA V. OSWAL WOLLEN MILLS
The court held that ‘when as a result of an order of the High court in a writ petition, an application for license was to be disposed of by the statutory authority no contempt can be said to be committed merely because there is a failure to dispose of the petition”. Any order of the court should give sufficient time for compliance before contempt proceedings can be initiated.
Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, it is seen that scandalizing or prejudicing a Judge or interfering with the administration of justice is contempt. Even tending to scandalize or tending to prejudice or tending to interfere or obstruct is enough to invoke action in criminal contempt.
STATE OF A.P V. PRAKASH RAO
A threat held out to a judge with a view to obtain favourable order would amount to criminal contempt as interference with the administration of justice. The threat need not be a threat to the judge himself personally.