Question: Contempt of court is a preventive tool against dissent and public scrutiny. Critically analyse.
Answer: Contempt has been used by judiciary in recent times to punish individuals speaking against the actions of judiciary. It has created an environment where citizens or groups fear to speak against the judiciary.
Types of contempt
- Civil contempt
Civil contempt refers to wilful disobedience to any judgment of the court.
- Criminal contempt
Criminal contempt is an act that tends to scandalise or lower the authority of the court or tends to interfere with the administration of justice.
The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines both civil and criminal contempt. Section 15 of the legislation describes the procedure on how a case for contempt of court can be initiated.
Need for contempt provisions
- Uphold judicial dignity
Judicial dignity is very central to ideals of democracy. It is necessary that the office is given due respect for their work and no unnecessary doubts are cast over its functioning.
- Non interference in judicial functioning
Judiciary has to be kept independent from interference of political class. This can be achieved if actions taken in judicial capacity are not criticized to embarrass the judges.
Concerns of contempt provisions
- Fine line between criticism and scandalisation
Criticism is the right of citizens in democracy but not scandalisation. A mere criticism can be interpreted as scandalisation and contempt proceedings can be initiated.
- Shield from public scrutiny
Public opinions can play a major way in formulation of policies. If opinions are restricted in the name of contempt then there will be no scope for evolution of ideas.
Thus, contempt is indeed a provision that has to be sparsely used only in cases where dignity of court is affected. Constructive criticism should always be welcomed.