CONTEMPT OF COURT BY LAWYERS, JUDGES, STATE, AND CORPORATIONS

MEANING OF CONTEMPT OF COURT:

Contempt of court means disobedience shown to the court by acting in opposition or disregarding the authority, justice, dignity thereof. Contempt is an act or omission whereby the order or directions of the court are wilfully disobeyed thereby interfering or obstructing the administration of justice. The contempt jurisdiction has been given to the court to uphold and protect the law and justice. Any kind of contempt of the court is punished to preserve the authority, dignity, solemnity, and efficacy of the court of justice. Contempt of court is a sense of insult to the court to low down the respect of the court in eyes of the public thereby creating dis-trust and general dissatisfaction in the minds of the people.

TYPES OF CONTEMPT OF COURT:

Section-2(a) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, states that contempt of court means civil contempt or criminal contempt.

CIVIL CONTEMPT- Section -2(b) states that civil contempt means any voluntary, willful, disobedience to any order, decree, direction, judgment, writ, or any other process of court or any kind of wilful breach of an undertaking given to the court.

CRIMINAL CONTEMPT- Section-2(c) states that criminal contempt means the publication either through verbal words or written or by signs or gestures or through visible representation or otherwise of any matter or doing some other action that scandalizes, prejudices, interferes, or tends to interfere with or obstruct or stop administering justice in any other manner.

PUNISHMENT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT: Section 12 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 provides that contempt of court shall be punished with simple imprisonment extending up to 6 months, or with a fine extending up to two thousand rupees or with both.

DEFENCES AVAILABLE TO THE CONTEMNER:

  • For constituting civil contempt, the disobedience of the judgment, order of the court, or breach of an undertaking given to the court must be wilful. Thus, a person knowing the order of the court and its consequences and implications ignores or violates it is guilty of contempt of court. A person can prove that he had no knowledge of the order of the court and thereby defend himself in contempt proceedings.
  • In cases where the order of the court that is violated or the undertaking given by the court is violated and it is proved that such order passed or undertaking given is without jurisdiction then such this disobedience of violation does not amount to contempt of court.
  • When the order passed by the court is incomplete, ambiguous, vague, not specific then the contemner can plea that its violation or disobedience does not amount to contempt as the order itself is not clear or complete.
  • In the case where the order passed by the court involves more than one reasonable interpretation and the respondent follows any one of them then he cannot be said to have committed contempt of court.
  • In the case where complying or following the order of the court was impossible and thus the disobedience of the order of the court does not amount to contempt of court.
  • If the contemner has no knowledge of the order of the court or continues to work against the direction of the order of the court before receiving the order is not liable for contempt of court.

CONTEMPT OF COURT BY LAWYERS:

The uncourteous conduct or misconduct of a lawyer such as using insulting words against the judge, imposing scandalous allegations on the judge, hiding or suppressing the facts and evidence for obtaining favorable judgment, hurling a shoe at the judge, alleging judge to be partial, biased, unfair amounts to contempt of court.

A lawyer who advises his clients to disobey the judgment or the order of the court is guilty of contempt of court. Further, when a lawyer refuses or ignores to answer the question asked to him by the court, he is liable for contempt of court. The lawyer in his pleadings or arguments cannot use language which is intemperate or unparliamentary, which undermines the dignity of the court.

A lawyer who is disrespectful to the judge, questions his authority, shouts or yells at him, loses his temper in the court, threatens the judge with impeachment or transfer, uses insulting or abusive language, dictates the judge to pass a favorable judgment, or does any act that interferes or obstructs the administration of justice amounts to contempt of court.

In re Nandlal Balwani case, 1999, the advocate chanted slogans in court and even hurled his shoe towards the court. This was taken as gross criminal contempt of court and was punished for the same. The advocate’s apology was rejected by the court by saying that it was not genuine or bonafide and was made only to escape punishment.

A lawyer imposing unfounded and false allegations of corruption on the judge, accusing the judge to be unfair as a ground of appeal to the appellate court, convincing the client to make a false affidavit, false documents, give false testimony amounts to contempt of court. Moreover, a lawyer withholding the funds of the client and not giving back even after repeated requests by the client, or acting as a lawyer without having necessary qualification also amounts to contempt of court.

CONTEMPT BY JUDGES, MAGISTRATES, OR OTHER PERSONS ACTING JUDICIALLY:

Section 16 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 provides that judges, magistrates, and other persons acting judicially can also be held liable for contempt of their courts or any other court. However, this section does not apply to any observation or remark made by the judges or magistrate relating to any subordinate court in case of any pending appeal or revision of any order or judgment passed by the subordinate court.

A judge who insults the lawyer or any party to the case he is hearing by his over actions or words loses the confidence and trust of the people and thereby also interferes in the administration of justice. A judge during a hearing cannot ask a counsel to get out or leave the courtroom without any rational reason. Such an act by a judge amounts to contempt of his court.

Article 141 of the Constitution of India provides that the law declared by the Supreme Court which is the apex court of India is binding on all courts in India. Further, Article 227 states that the ruling made by the High court shall be binding on all subordinate courts except when a judgment of the high court conflicts with that passed by the Supreme Court. In case of a subordinate court not following, ignoring, or disobeying the law laid down by its superior court it amounts to contempt of the superior court. In case of judge or magistrate of subordinate court purposely ignoring or avoiding the binding judgment passed by the High Court then he is liable for contempt of court. When the subordinate court had knowledge of the order or judgment of the High Court and deliberately disregards it then it may be held liable for contempt.

If the judge or magistrate scandalizes, uses abusive language, acts furiously, lowers the authority of the court, interferes in the judicial proceeding or administration of justice, or is found accepting any kind of bribe or illegal gratification for passing favorable judgment is also liable for contempt of court.

The Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850, protects the persons acting as judicial officers from contempt proceedings. The immunity or the protection granted under this Act applies to acts of Judges, Magistrate, Justice of the peace, Collector, or other persons acting judicially in good faith within jurisdiction while discharging their duties.

CONTEMPT LIABILITY OF STATE, CORPORATE BODIES, AND THEIR OFFICERS:

Even the State or its officers or ministers are not immune from contempt liability. Rule 5 of Order XXXIX of the Code of Civil Procedure,1908 provides that any injunction directed to a corporation binds the members and officers of the corporation. Injunction or contempt proceeding can be taken against any minister or corporate body or State officer acting in his official capacity. In such contempt proceeding if the court is satisfied that the officer ignores his duty to implement or carry out the order of the court or there has been wilful disobedience of the order of the court or the injunction passed by the court by him then he will be held liable for contempt of court.

When a court passes an order against an officer then after his term even his successor is also bound to obey that order of the court. If the successor officer wilfully disobeys the court’s order, then he may be held liable for contempt of court.

When a court passes an order against a corporation, the officer or the agent of the corporation is bound by that order. If he disobeys the court’s order passed against the corporation then he will be liable for contempt of court as the corporation acts only through its agents and officers. Thus, order to a corporation is an order to the directors, officers who are conducting and controlling the affairs of the corporation. Any such officer who knows the order of the court willfully prevents its compliance or ignores the order is liable for contempt of court.

When a company is found guilty of contempt of court every officer in charge of the conduct of the business of the company at the time the contempt was committed shall be deemed to be guilty and be punished. However, if the officer proves that the act or omission amounting to contempt of court was committed without his knowledge or that he tried his best to prevent the commission of contempt then he may not be held liable for contempt of court.

As the law of contempt of court is made in the public interest for the proper administration of justice therefore the court has the power to lift the corporate veil of the company if its officers are using it as a cloak to wilfully disobey the order of the court. Thus, the court can punish the officers, directors, members of the company for committing contempt of court.

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