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Law Commission Refuses to Lower Bar on Contempt, Says it May Lead to 'Blasphemy of Courts'

While noting that the legislation in question had been amended twice, first in 1976 and then in 2006, the commission said that if the court’s power to exercise contempt is reduced, then it would “not be a meaningful exercise and would not be in larger public interest”.

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:April 18, 2018, 8:03 AM IST
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Law Commission Refuses to Lower Bar on Contempt, Says it May Lead to 'Blasphemy of Courts'
File Photo of the Supreme Court of India.
New Delhi: The Law Commission, the executive body for legal reform, has refused to lower the bar on contempt of court cases as it would decrease the “fear of courts” and may lead to increased “instances of deliberate denial and blasphemy of courts”.

The panel, headed by former Supreme Court Justice BS Chauhan, on Tuesday, submitted its 274th report to the Government of India regarding Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. This came after a meeting of the entire commission took place following a March 8 reference from the Law Ministry.

While noting that the legislation in question had been amended twice, first in 1976 and then in 2006, the commission said that if the court’s power to exercise contempt is reduced, then it would “not be a meaningful exercise and would not be in larger public interest”.

The commission noted that it would not suggest amending the definition of contempt as it has stood the test of courts.

The law panel decided not to amend the 1971 Act and has declined to restrict its definition to only “willful disobedience of directions/ judgment as contempt of court”.

“Amending the existing definition will lead to ambiguity as it will give rise to more occasion for spontaneous and multiple definitions, 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,” reads the 274th report.

The commission noted that if the provisions of the legislation are narrowed down in scope “it could potentially lessen the respect for or fear of the courts and their authority, functioning”. It further said that it may also “lead to an undesired increase in the instances of deliberate denial and blasphemy of the courts”.

One of the salient points noted by the commission is that by diluting the present legislation, it’s the lower courts that may face the maximum brunt because the higher courts have constitutional protection to avoid contempt of court.

Articles 129 and 215 vests the superior courts with the power to punish for their contempt. Additionally, Article 142(2) also enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.

Hence, the Commission notes that any change to the 1971 statute would “largely expose subordinate courts to increased instances of unaddressed ‘contempt of court’, particularly ‘scandalizing’, because of the narrowed scope of Section 10 i.e. the power of High Court to punish for ‘contempt’ of subordinate court”.

The report laid down that a total number of 568 criminal contempt cases and 96,310 civil contempt cases were pending in the High Courts. The Orissa High Court leads in criminal contempt cases with 104 pending matters, while the Allahabad High Court has 25,370 pending civil contempt cases.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, as of April 10, 2018, a total number of 683 civil contempt cases and 15 criminal contempt cases is still pending.

Hence, by these figures, the commission has sought to establish that there is a steady increase in the number of contempt cases and that any change to the present statute might lead to a further increase in these figures.

“These cases in civil and criminal contempt matters represent the high number of incidents of interference with ‘due course of justice’ — by wilful disobedience of judgments or orders as well as by other means of lowering the authority of court, such as ‘scandalising the court’,” says the law commission report.

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| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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