In India, what is the legal foundation for contempt of court? To what extent do you agree that judicial institutions require protection? (150 Words)


  • Explain briefly what contempt of court is and how it came to be.
  • Define the legal provisions governing contempt of court.
  • Discuss how the court’s proceedings should be honoured, while ensuring adequate safeguards for fair criticism.
  • Finally, emphasise the importance of balanced criticism in developing a strong judiciary.


Contempt of court is a legal notion that tries to protect judicial institutions from malicious attacks and unjustified criticism, as well as to penalise those who undermine its authority. The concept of contempt of court dates back several centuries and originated in England as a common law provision designed to defend the king’s judicial power.


Contempt of court was included to the list of prohibitions on free speech and expression when the Constitution was written. Separately, Article 129 of the Constitution gave the Supreme Court the authority to punish itself for contempt. Article 215 gave the High Courts an equivalent power. The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 legitimises the concept of contempt of court.

Contempt is classified as both civil and criminal under the law. Civil contempt is a straightforward offence. It is committed when someone knowingly disobeys a court order or willfully breaches a court-granted undertaking. Criminal contempt is a more complicated matter. It comes in three varieties: (a) words, written or spoken, signs, and actions that “scandalise” or “tend to scandalise” or “lower” or “tends to lower” any court’s authority; (b) prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding; and (c) interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice.

The grounds for contempt of court

The reasoning behind this rule is that courts must be protected from malicious attacks that undermine their authority, tarnish their public image, and cause the public to lose faith in their impartiality. To punish willful disobedience to court orders (civil contempt), as well as interference with the administration of justice and overt threats to judges, contempt authority is required. The concept of contempt exists to protect the institution from unfair attacks and to prevent a precipitous drop in the judiciary’s public reputation.

However, there are some issues involving contempt of court, like :

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to free speech and expression, however “contempt clauses” limit people’s ability to speak out against the court’s operation.

The law is very subjective, and the judiciary may utilise it arbitrarily to restrict public criticism. For example, the judgement of the ground of scandalising the court is heavily influenced by the judge’s temperament and preferences. What is considered contempt by Judge A may not be considered contempt by Judge B.


In today’s world, it is increasingly crucial that courts are seen to be concerned with accountability, that allegations are followed by impartial investigations rather than threats of contempt proceedings, and that processes are transparent. The fear of scandalising the courts prevents much of the media and the public from conducting a more critical investigation of the judiciary’s functioning. It would be prudent to suggest that it is past time to strike a balance in favour of a dynamic democracy in which constructive criticism is encouraged.


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