The Law Commission today rejected a proposal of the Law Ministry to restrict the definition of "contempt of court", saying that despite amendment to the law, courts can still exercise their power to punish people for contempt as their authority flows from the Constitution and not statutes.
The department of justice in the Law Ministry had asked the Commission to examine and consider an amendment to the Contempt of Act 1971, to restrict the definition of contempt to only wilful disobedience of directions or judgement of court. It had sought the removal of another clause -- "criminal contempt" -- which includes "scandalising the court".
"...the suggestion to delete the provision relating to criminal contempt' will have no impact on the power of the superior courts (SC and HCs) to punish for contempt (including criminal contempt) in view of their inherent constitutional powers, as these powers are independent of statutory provisions," the Commission said in a report.
The power to punish for contempt does not emanate from the law but is a procedural statute that guides its enforcement.
"The reason being that even prior to the commencement of the Act, these inherent powers were being exercised by the superior courts. Thus, the powers of contempt of the Supreme Court and High Courts are independent of the Act, 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 with or abrogated," the Commission said, cautioning the government.
According to the law, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) which "scandalises" or "tends to scandalise" any court.
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