IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Scandalising as contempt: On proceedings against Prashant Bhushan

27th July, 2020 Polity


  • The initiation of proceedings for criminal contempt of court against lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan has once again brought under focus the necessity for retaining the law of contempt as it stands today.

Needs to reforms:

  • Social Media is full of criticism.
  • No need to waste the time of judiciary in power to punish for contempt of itself.
  • England abolished the offence of “scandalising the court” in 2013, from where the idea has been borrowed.
  • Contempt of law prevents media from looking at the functioning of judiciary.
  • The U.K. Law Commission in a 2012 report recommending the abolition of the law of contempt said that the law was originally intended to maintain a “blaze of glory” around courts.
  • Definition of criminal contempt in India is extremely wide, and can be easily invoked. 
  • Suomotupowers of the Court to initiate such proceedings only serve to complicate matters. 
  • Criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with the modern democratic system which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.

About Contempt law:

  • In India contempt of court is of two types:
  • Civil contempt: Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as 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: Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as 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:
    • Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
    • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
    • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
  • Punishment: Six months jail, or fine up to ₹2000, or both

Reason behind its existence:

  • Needed to punish wilful disobedience to court orders (civil contempt),
  • To prevent interference in the administration of justice.
  • To prevent threats to judges.
  • Insulate the institution from unfair attacks.
  • Prevent a sudden fall in the judiciary’s reputation in the public eye.

Way Forward:

  • It is more important that courts are seen to be concerned about accountability.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/scandalising-as-contempt-the-hindu-editorial-on-proceedings-against-prashant-bhushan/article32198126.ece