All about Law relating to Contempt of Court : With reference to Prashant Bhushan's Contempt Case

17 Sep 2020

Recently,the Supreme Court has held the renowned advocate Mr. Prashant Bhushan asguilty of contempt of Court for his two tweets found to be criticising the judiciary. Let's discuss about the provision and law relating to the Contempt.                   

                The matters pertaining to Contempt of Court is governed by Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred as the " Act ") which defines and limits the power of Courts to punish for contempt and also helps to maintain and uphold dignity of Courts.

Meaning of Contempt of Court

Anything that curtails and/or impairs the freedom of judiciary and/or its proceeding/s, disrespects / disregard of administration of law or interference therein which consists of words spoken, written and/or publishing such words which obstructs /or tends to obstruct administration of justice.

Types of Contempt

The contempt can be divided into two -

Civil Contempt : -

                Civil Contempt  "means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree,direction, order, writ or other process of a Court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a Court; "

Criminal Contempt: -

                Criminal Contempt "means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever, which-

         i.           scandalizes, or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any Court; or

     ii.           prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with,the due course of any judicial proceeding; or

     iii.           interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;

Powers of Court for Punishment of its Contempt

Power of Supreme Court

                Article 129 of Indian Constitution confers powers to Supreme Court of India to punish for its contempt. Article 129 states:-

                "129 The Supreme Court shall be a Court of record and shall have all the powers of such a Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself."

Power of High Courts of States

                Article215 of Indian Constitution confers powers to High Courts of States to punish for its contempt. Article 215 states:-

                "215  Every High Court shall be a Court of record and shall have all the powers of such a Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself."

Contempt of Subordinate Court

                Section10 of the Act discusses about the contempt of subordinate Court -

Section 10 - Power of High Court to punish contempt of subordinate Courts

"Every High Court shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority, in accordance with the same procedure and practice, in respect of contempt of Courts subordinate to it as it has and exercises in respect of contempt of itself:

PROVIDED that no High Court shall take cognizance of a contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a Court subordinate to it where such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code (45 of1860)."

Punishment for Contempt of Court under the Act

                Section12 of the Act discusses about the punishment that can be inflicted for contempt of Court. Section states :-

(1) Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act or in any other law, a contempt of Court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both:

PROVIDED that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the Court.

All about Prashant Bhushan's Contempt Case [i]

                This case was taken up suo moto (on its own/ by self) by Hon'ble Supreme Court of India based on two tweets posted by Advocate Prashant Bhushan, upon / or subsequent to a petition filed by Mr. Mahek Maheswari.

                Tweet posted on 27th June said " When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs. "

                Whereas,  in June 29th  tweet included a photo of Chief Justice of India Justice S. A. Bobde riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and was said that “CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan,Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice”

Supreme Court's View

                Supreme Court on 14th August,2020 rejected all the arguments filed by Advocate Prashant Bhushan and stated that the tweets were based on distorted facts and amount to "criminal contempt" and held Advocate Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of "Criminal Contempt". Further, hearing with respect to the quantum of sentence was extended to 20th August, 2020 by the Apex Court.

                Thereafter, Hon'ble Supreme Court extended time till 24th August, 2020 to Mr. Prashant Bhushan and asked to reconsider his defiant statement and submit an "unconditional apology",if he so desires to. However, Mr. Prashan Bhushan stated before SC that, "I do not ask for mercy, I cheerfully submit to any penalty", it was further stated that "it would be insincere to apologise for tweets that expressed my bona fide belief"

                On August 31, 2020 Hon'ble Supreme Court observed:

                "We gave several opportunities and encouragement to (Prashant Bhushan) to express regret. He not only gave wide publicity to the  second statement but also gave various interviews to press"

                Supreme Court imposed a token fine Re. 1/- against Mr. Bhushan in the Contempt Case. Also bench asked to deposit fine by Sept 15, 2020,failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarred from law practice for three years.


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