Explained: What is a Contempt Notice?

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

This is the remedy granted to Courts as they can sou motu take cognizance of offences of contempt that takes place. The Court can issue a contempt notice by mentioning the grounds of contempt on the basis of which the accused is being held liable. Anything that curtails the freedom of judicial proceedings which leads to hampering the administration of law and interference in the course of justice is known as Contempt of Court. There are various definitions provided by various jurists. Oswald defines contempt as any conduct that brings disrespect or disregard to authority and administration of law or interfere or prejudice parties during litigation. Halsbury defines contempt as words spoken or written which obstructs the administration of justice.

A very recent incident took place on 9th June when Gujarat High Court bench comprised by Justice Sonia Gokani and Justice NV Anjaria issued a criminal contempt notice to GHCAA President Yatiz Oza as spoke some “Scurrilous” remarks against High Court and its Registry in a live press conference on facebook. Various journalists became part of this press conference where Oza called Hight Court as “Gambling Den” as in his opinion High Court only caters the litigants who have either means or powers. He also mentioned that those advocates who do not have such means or resources will be kicked by the High Court.

During the conference he also said that Registry of High Court adopts corrupt practices as it shows un-due favours to high profile cases, this makes High Court functioning for high profile, influential people. He also said that Billionaires get their cases listed within 2 days whereas poor and non-VIP have to suffer a lot. He highlighted also referred that matters of influential people were heard and orders were granted in 2-3 days while other advocates had to wait for months to get their matters listed. He also mentioned that he had same grievances from over 100 of advocates in this regard. The 2 Judge bench of Gujarat High Court said that he has put false and contemptuous allegations of corruption and malpractices on Registry of High Court and its administration.

Judges further said that without caring of true facts and in the wave of populism he has condemned the institution. He also crossed his limits by giving open challenge to the authority of Court. He being President of GHCAA said such scurrilous remarks without any substantive basis. Due to this these 2 judges suo motu issued a Criminal Contempt Notice under Art 215 of Constitution and Sec-15 of the act.

Legal provisions regarding Contempt Notice-    

Under The Contempt of Court Act,1971-

  • Sec 2(a) defines Contempt of Court are of 2 types- Civil and Criminal.
  • Sec 2(b) defines Civil Contempt of Court as “wilful disobedience or breach to any judgement, decree, order or other process of Court,
  • Sec 2(c) refers to Criminal Contempt means Publication (words or written) of any matter which- i)Scandalizes or lower the authority of any Court, ii)Prejudice or interfere with judicial proceedings, iii)interferes or obstructs the administration of judiciary.
  •  Sec.3-9 deals with defences against Criminal Contempt which are listed as-

(i) Innocent Publication and Distribution of Matter; (ii) Fair and Accurate Report of Judicial Proceedings; (iii) Fair Criticism of Judicial Act; (iv) Bonafide complaint against Presiding Officer of a Subordinate Court;

  • Sec 12 deals with Punishment for Contempt of Court. It gives powers to Supreme Court and High Court under 12(1) to Punish Contempt of Court with Simple Imprisonment of 6 months or fine upto Rs. 2000 or both;
  • Sec 14 deals with Procedure where Contempt is in Face of the Court and also lays down that who should be appointed as judges and when matter is to be heard by Chief Justice.
  • Sec 15 deals with Cognizance of Criminal Contempt in other cases and lays down that the Court can take action on its own or under motion made by the person so appointed.
  • Section 17 lays down the Procedure After Cognizance- Here it gives the guidelines of proper serving of Notice with all the necessary details and with that notice the Court should also attach necessary Affidavits and documents. Also it gives the provisions for attachment of Accused Property.
  • Section 20 lists down the Limitation for Actions for Contempt to One Year.

Under Constitution of India-

  • Art 129 and 142(2) gives Supreme Court power To Punish for Contempt itself. Also it makes SC as Courts of Record.
  • Art 215gives High Court power To Punish for Contempt itself. Also it makes HC as Courts of Record.

These are various legal provisions on the basis of which a Contempt Notice can be issued. There are various landmark judgements that support this power of Courts.

In the case of Utpal Kumar Das V. Court of Munsifs, Kanpur it was held that whenever Court asks for assistance in an order and so not provided leads to Civil Contempt of Court.

In the case of U.P. Resi. Emp. Co-op., House B. Society v. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority the SC directed Noida Authority to verify details and file the affidavits for allotment of plot. The accused submitted false affidavit to mislead the Court. It was held as a contempt of Court.

In Jaswant Singh v. Virender Singh advocate gives derogative and scandalous remarks on HC judge. It created tendency to scandalize the Court and it was held that it caused interference in Court proceedings and it was held as criminal contempt.

In case of M/S. Gatraj Jain & Sons v. Janakiraman it was stated that if a third party to the contempt petition wilfully disobey the Court order, then he cannot prevent the Court from restoring the contempt petition against him.

In Supreme Court Bar Association v. Union Of India & Anr it was held that the Procedural Aspect of Contempt is prescribed by Parliament to be applicable in SC and HC. It also held that there should be no interference in judicial proceedings and its administration.

In O.P. Sharma v. Punjab and Haryana High Court it was held that advocate is expected to act in sincere manner and should have diligent conduct. Any violation of Principles of Professional Ethics is unacceptable and brings in Contempt Petition.

In case of Dr. Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India (UOI) constitutional validity of contempt was given. In this case, Constitution was referred and it was held that defamation is also kind of Contempt. This upheld the validity of Contempt.

In P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others it was held that judges cannot use contempt jurisdiction to upheld their dignity. Criticism regarding “Administration” is valid.

In Justice Karnan’s Case, Contempt of court proceeding for accusing 20 judges with corruption charges leads this judge to imprisonment of 6 months. In Hari Kishan vs. Narutham Das Shashtri SC held that private person cannot file Contempt Petition u/s 15 to prevent Courts to be flooded with false accusations and also to avoid personal grudge or interest.

Conclusion

Contempt is said to be an act or omission which tends to interfere the administration of justice. Also anything published (either orally or in writing) that Scandalizes or lower the image of judiciary is also known as Contempt. There tend to be an overlap between Contempt Powers under Indian Penal Code, Contempt of Court Act and Powers of High Court and Supreme Court given under Constitution of India.

There are various laws on point but, The Contempt of Courts Act,1971 lays down provisions that help in attaining protection to the Judicial Administration. According to Article 19(1)(a) it provides for freedom of speech but this is often misused by people at large, these laws act as a limitation to such freedoms. These laws provide redressal from frivolous accusations that are made to lower the image of Judiciary.

These are very well written laws covering each and every aspect that leads to contempt of court. It also provide for discharge from punishment by remitting the award on apology on the satisfaction of court. “Administration of Justice” is to be used in very wide sense by not confining it to the judicial function of judge rather it should include Adjudicatory functions, Administration Functions and other necessary administrative functions. In my opinion Lower Courts should also be provided with the contempt powers.

Author: Madhuresh Chaudhary from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies , Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.

Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India

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