Who are the authorities under the law?

Last updated on Aug 23, 2022

The Constitution of India, 1950 empowers the Supreme Court 1 and High Courts2 to have the powers to punish for contempt. This means that if a person is held for contempt against any Subordinate Court like the District Court, the respective High Courts of the State shall have the power to punish such a person.3 Here, the term ‘High Court’ will also include the court of the Judicial Commissioner in a Union Territory.4

Subordinate Courts do not have the power to punish for contempt of courts,5 and they have to rely on their respective High Courts to punish those held for contempt.3

Tribunals and contempt of court

Some tribunals have the power to punish for contempt. However, one would have to look at the law establishing the tribunal to see whether that particular tribunal has the power to punish for contempt and to know the procedure before the tribunal. For example, the Central Administrative Tribunal has the independent power to punish for contempt,6  as well as the Industrial Tribunal has such powers. 7

  1. Article 129, Constitution of India, 1950.[]
  2. Article 215, Constitution of India, 1950.[]
  3. Section 10, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.[][]
  4.  Section 2(d), Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.[]
  5. Delhi Judicial Service Association, Tis Hazari Court v. the State of Gujarat, (1991) 4 SCC 406.[]
  6. Section 17, Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.[]
  7.  Industrial Disputes (Appellate Tribunal) Act, 1950.[]

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What does the law say you can/cannot do?

While anything that lowers the authority of the courts can be considered as contempt, there are certain exceptions given in the law. These include innocent publication and distribution of matter, fair and accurate reporting of a judicial proceeding, fair criticism of judicial actions, complaint against presiding officers of subordinate courts and truth.

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.

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.