Power to punish for Contempt of court in light of the case of Shri CK Daphtary and Ors v. Shri OP Gupta and Ors [AIR (1971) SC 1132]



Contempt of Courts Act gives power to Court to punish anyone who does its contempt. This concept/law developed in Britain, spread through colonialism to protect the authority and legitimacy of Court power to punish for contempt provided to Judiciary. Our constitution makers also for the same reasons provided contempt power to our higher judiciary. There was no statutory law of contempt till 1926. Indian courts followed the English Common Law. In 1926, the government enacted the Contempt of Courts Act XII of 1926, whereby the High Courts were given power to punish for contempt of courts “subordinate” to them. This was repealed and substituted by the Contempt of Courts Act XXXII of 1952, which has been replaced by the Contempt of Courts Act, No. 20 of 1971[1].


Contempt of court is a charge which can be laid against someone for interrupting the process of justice in a court of law. Contempt of Courts Act gives power to Court to punish anyone who does its contempt. Our constitution makers provided contempt power to our higher judiciary to protect the authority and legitimacy of Court.

Under Indian law, “contempt of court” has been divided into two categories: civil contempt and criminal contempt.
Civil contempt means “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” (section 2.b).

Section 2.c says that “Criminal Contempt” means 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
i. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
ii. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding: or
iii. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.”[2]

Law of Contempt imposes three types of restraints:
1. Restrictions on writings or speeches affecting matters pending in the court (subjudice)
2. Punishment for defiance of Court Orders
3. Punishment for Scandalous attacks on judges or the Court.

 Subjudice matter: The Supreme courts ask the parties of litigations to refrain from speaking to the media or publishing articles on pending matters. In issues involving different aspects of people’s life, judicial process is used as one of the tools for protecting the people’s right. Public advocacy and political mobilization cannot be excluded just because recourse to judicial process has been taken. To expect that a person who chooses to invoke the judicial process must eschew public advocacy is to make the judicial process rather too socially expensive remedy. Whether a common citizen or Press untrained in law has a right to speak anything against or comment upon the Judgment or courts or attitude of court or of Judges.

Defiance of Court Order: when an order of court is disobeyed, the power to punish for contempt is necessary to maintain the dignity of the court If people can get away with defiance of the orders of the court, the court will lose respect and will be further disobeyed. Any disobedience that goes unpunished can waken the authority of the court and affects its legitimacy. Courts only source of power is the feeling among the people that they are bound by it. Power of court does not lie in the actual punishment that it imposes. But, in the feeling among people that they have an obligation to obey the court.

Attacks on Judges/ court: It is one thing to criticize the decisions of the court and quite another to criticize the Judges. It seems the court is now rather too sensitive to criticism of the Judges. There are no of contradictions in the law of contempt
i. There is no defence of the truth in a contempt case as is available in defamation case.
ii. Law of contempt holds even the media liable for reporting the contempt committed by another person[3]

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The respondent (O. P. Gupta) published and circulated a booklet in public purporting to ascribe bias and dishonesty to Justice Shah while acting in his judicial capacity. Mr C.K. Daphtary, along with others, filed a petition alleging that the booklet has scandalised the judges who participated in the decision and brought into contempt the authority of the highest court of the land and thus weakened the confidence of the people in it.


  1. Whether the act done amounts to contempt of court?
  2. Whether the wrong is done to judge personally or it is done to the public?


  1. The first respondent has urged that the existing law relating to contempt of court by writings in respect of proceedings which have finished is repugnant to Article 19(1)(a), read with Article 19(2). He contends that the existing law imposes unreasonable restrictions on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a). He urges that we should follow the law existing in the United States of America. Mr. C.K. Daphtary, on the other hand, contends, first, that Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(2) do not apply to the law relating to contempt of this Court because of Article 129 of the Constitution, which reads:

“The Supreme Court shall be a Court of Record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the powers to punish for contempt of itself.”

Secondly, Mr. Daphtary urges that the existing law relating to contempt of court is not a ‘law” covered by the definition of the word “law” in Article 13(3)(a).

Thirdly, Mr. Daphtary contends that the existing law only imposes reasonable restrictions within the meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.  [1]


The Supreme Court, in examining the scope of the contempt of court, laid down that the test in each case is whether the impugned publication is a mere defamatory attack on the judge or whether it will interfere with the due course of justice or the proper administration of law by the court.

In the result it is held that O.P. Gupta, respondent No. 1, is guilty of contempt of this Court and sentenced to simple imprisonment for two months

Responded no.2 Melaram partner of press stated that he did not look into the material which the 1st responded brought for printing and expressed his unconditional and unqualified apology to this court. No further action was taken against him.

3RD respondent  has not been served or traced.


The law of Contempt has been enacted to secure public respect and confidence in the Judicial process. If such confidence is shaken or broken, the confidence of the common man in the institution of judiciary and democratic set up is likely to be eroded which, if not checked, is sure to be disastrous for the society itself”.

[1] Para 48 of  C. K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta  AIR1971SC1132

[1] http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l430-Contempt-Power-of-Court.html

[2]  Section 2, Contempt of Courts Act of 1971

[3] http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l430-Contempt-Power-of-Court.html


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