Law Commission of India Suggests no Amendment to Contempt of Courts Act


April 19, 2018

The Law Commission of India on April 18 released its 274th Report on Review of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Limited to Section 2 of the Act).

The Commission reviewed the Act in view of reference from the Department of Justice on March 8, whereby the Department had asked the Commission to review the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971  to limit the definition under Section 2 of the Act to “willful disobedience of directions/judgments of the Court as Contempt of Court”.

The Law Commission of India has stated that the suggested amendment to Section 2 of Contempt of Courts Act  not be a meaningful exercise and would not be in the larger public interest to minimize the effect of the exercise of powers of contempt as and when the need arises.

Suggestions by the Law Commission in the Report

  • That the suggestion to delete the provision relating to ‘criminal contempt’ inter alia ‘scandalising of courts’ will have no impact on the power of the Superior Courts to punish for contempt (including criminal contempt) in view of their inherent constitutional powers, as these powers are independent of statutory provisions.
  • That the Act 1971 is not the source of ‘power to punish for contempt’ but a procedural statute that guides the enforcement and regulation of such power. The powers of contempt of the Supreme Court and High Courts are independent of the Act 1971, and, therefore, by making any such amendment, the power of the superior courts to punish for contempt under Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution cannot be tinkered or abrogated.
  • That a change to limit the ambit of ‘contempt’ only to ‘wilful disobedience of directions / judgement of Court’ demote the expressions ‘contempt’ and ‘contempt of court’ as used in and referred to under the Act 1971. Such limitation will not affect the powers of the Supreme Court and High Courts to punish for their contempt but will largely expose the subordinate courts to increased instances of unaddressed ‘contempt of court’, particularly ‘scandalising’.
  • That any amendment to the Act 1971 to amend the already existing definition of ‘contempt’ will also lead to ambiguity because the same is bound to give rise to more occasions for spontaneous and multiple definitions and interpretations as the Superior Courts exercise their inherent powers of contempt. In the interest of consistency and coherency, it is suggested to continue with the existing definition, which has stood the test of judicial scrutiny.
  • That curtailing the scope of contempt to only include ‘wilful disobedience of directions / judgment of Court’ seems undesirable because of the continuing need for deterrence against contemptuous elements. If the provisions are so narrowed in scope, there will be a reduction in impact. Such a change in the law of contempt could potentially lessen the respect for or fear of the courts and their authority and functioning; and, there is a possibility that this may lead to an undesired increase in the instances of deliberate denial and blasphemy of the courts.