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Concept of Contempt of Court


Last Updated on June 28, 2023 by Kanakkupillai

Contempt of Court

The concept of contempt of court encompasses two types: civil contempt and criminal contempt, as defined by Section 2(a) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The scope and provisions of contempt of court have been subjects of ongoing discussions. The concept of contempt of court was first introduced in 1961 by HN Sanyal and the solicitor general. The law was extensively discussed, and the committee recommended safeguarding the right to freedom of speech and expression and protecting personal liberties. This article aims to provide an overview of contempt of court.


Articles 129 and 219 of the Constitution of India empower the high courts and supreme court, respectively, to punish individuals for contempt. Additionally, Section 10 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 empowers the high courts to deal with contempt committed by subordinate courts.


a) Valid court order: A valid court order must be in place.

b) Knowledge of the order: The respondent must know the court order.

c) Willful disobedience: Willful disobedience of the court order is a key factor.

d) Ability to comply: The respondent should have the ability to comply with the court order.


According to Hardwick, contempt of court can be classified into three categories:

a) Scandalizing the court itself: Any act or expression that defames or undermines the authority and reputation of the court.

b) Abusing the parties involved: Any act or expression that abuses or insults the parties involved in a case before the court.

c) Prejudicing the public: Any act or expression that prejudices the public and interferes with the administration of justice.

However, in India, the Contempt of Court is of two types:


Civil contempt, as per Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, occurs when there is willful disobedience to a court order, direction, writ, or undertaking. It involves a failure to comply with the court’s orders.


Criminal contempt, defined by Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, refers to any expression that can potentially affect the court’s reputation. This can occur through publications, journals, or writings criticising or undermining the court’s judgments. It also encompasses unlawful activities that impact the administration of justice.


Third parties can also be held liable for contempt of court if they are involved in activities that degrade the court’s reputation or prejudice the public against court judgments. Section 20 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, mentions the limitation period for initiating contempt proceedings. The limitation period is one year from when the contemptuous act was committed.


The concept of contempt of court is an essential provision of the law, aiming to safeguard the dignity and integrity of the courts. However, there is a need to expand the scope of contempt of court to further ensure the proper functioning of the judicial system.

G.Durghasree B.A.B.L (Hons)

G Durghasree B.A.B.L (Hons) is a registered trademark attorney with extensive experience as an Advocate for a period of 8 years. She possesses expertise in trademark law, including trademark filing and trademark hearings. Additionally, she is skilled in contract drafting and reviewing, providing legal advice and opinions, particularly in the areas of Company Law, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), and Goods and Service Tax Law (GST). Her experience encompasses both litigation and non-litigation aspects of these laws.