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EXPLAINED: Contempt of Court and Controversies

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Recently, the Supreme Court of India has convicted senior advocate Prashant Bhushan of contempt of court for his two tweets. The court said that the tweets were an attempt to shake the “very foundation of constitutional democracy”. In his first tweet, he expressed his views regarding a picture of CJI S. A. Bobde sitting on a superbike, and in his second tweet, he shared his opinions regarding the decisions taken by last four CJIs as master of the roaster.

Pradeep Chauhan & Shey Srivastava | New Delhi

Courts have become an essential part of our lives for dispute redressal and much more. In India, courts have assumed the capacity of a guardian in mango people’s lives. The Supreme Court of India has always regarded as guarantor and protector of fundamental rights of people.

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Courts through several laws have conferred various powers to maintain the authority vested in them. To punish for its contempt is one such power.

What is contempt of court? 

  • The contempt is the disobedience of something or someone. While the contempt of court is not merely disobedience of court, it extends to include every act which tends to lower the authority and dignity of the court or scandalises the same, or any act which attempts to impede the process of law and interferes with the process of administration of justice.
  • As far as the interpretation of the COC Act, 1971 is concerned, any act which undermines the confidence of people in judiciary and stirs feelings of people or questions cases pending before the court, i.e. media and social media trial, are also considered as contempt of court. 
  • Acts which attempt to affect the mind of judge(s) and acts of flattery to gain the confidence or prejudice the court against opposite party are also some instances of COC . The law also classifies contempt of court into civil contempt of court and criminal contempt of court. 

The question arises is this a question of contempt or not?, the Statement to be considered as contempt must of that nature and has the capacity to scandalise the faith of people in the judiciary. 

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Here, Mr. Bhushan was just expressing his views which were based on some facts. He also apologised for the part where he questioned CJI “riding bike without helmet” as the bike was on the stand. Also, there are certain defences provided under the Contempt of Court Act.

For better knowledge, it’s good to know that what is not COC.

What is not Contempt of Court?

  • Fair and accurate reporting of judicial proceedings will not amount to the court of contempt.
  • Fair criticism on the merits of a judicial order after a case is heard and disposed of will also not amount to the court of contempt.
  • A statement would not constitute criminal contempt if it is only against the judge in his or her individual capacity and not in the discharge of his or her judicial function. 

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