Willful Disobedience of Court Orders: Contempt Law

‘Willful Disobedience of Court Orders: Contempt Law’

Author: Khushboo Agarwal, ICFAI, Dehradun


Every nation has the authority to serve justice to its people, so does India has. India consists of many lower and high courts, with the Supreme Court as the apex body of the judiciary. The citizens are bound by the order and degree of these courts, and even if not the constitution of India has provided its citizen with the provision of appealing in high courts against the order of the lower court, of which supreme court is the highest and no appeal shall lie against its order. Every citizen has to be bound by the final verdict of the court, and contrary to it will be considered as disobey, of which legal consequences have to be faced by that person or organization. Every party to lie before the court, and even otherwise, is expected to obey the orders of the court in its true spirit and substance.

The act of using offending language against the appointed authority of the court, shuffling of facts to get good favorable order, attribution of prejudice, and shamefulness against the adjudicator is the act of contempt of court. The council who advises their client to resist the request for the court is additionally expected to take responsibility for scorn of court. Pointing the legal executive for malicious precision in the bar council election will also be considered as contempt of the court. In the event that the chamber won’t respond to the subject of the court is additionally obligated for hatred of the court.

It is well settled that the matter of contempt is always an issue between the court and the contemner. No right vests in a private gathering to get any individual rebuffed for contempt. He can only inform the Court of the contempt committed by any person and thereafter it is for the Court to deal with the contemner. The party which informs the Court about the alleged contempt can only assist the Court in coming to the conclusion whether any contempt has been committed or not. As opposed to this, if a person obtains an interim injunction or a final decree for an injunction, he gets a right to enforce it[1]

Legal Provision with regards to Contempt of Court

The constitution of India as well as Contempt of Court, 1971 both holds the power to punish for the offence of the contempt of its order. Article 129, Article 142(2) empowers the Supreme Court and Article 215 of the Indian Constitution empowers the High Courts to take action against the contempt of its order. [2]The Contempt of Court, 1971 defines contempt as both civil and criminal in nature.[3]

In the case of Legal Remembrancer versus Matilal Ghose And Ors. (1914) ILR 41 Cal 173, the Calcutta high court has clarified completely the distinction between the civil and criminal contempt cases. They have cited that civil contempt is a demonstration of contempt of the court’s decree or order by the disappointment of not doing forecasted act though criminal contempt of the court request implies resisting the authority through certain hostile direct.

Willful disobedience of the Court order, degree, etc

Under Section 2 (b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 willful disobedience of the court order is a matter of civil contempt. It defines civil Contempt as willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order writ, or other process of a court. Thus, it’s clear from the definition that the malice intention is an essential ingredient for committing the offence under Section 2(b) of the aforesaid act. Thus, mere disobedience of the order of the Court is not sufficient to constitute civil contempt. If the court is satisfied that the disobedience of its order is done by a person without wrongful intention under the compelling circumstances, the court may free the alleged contemner from the charges. Contrary to the above the court can punish them in the form of fines or incarceration. Therefore, the element of willingness is an indispensable requirement to bring home the charge within the meaning of the Act. [4]

The term “willful” under this particular section means an act or omission that is carried out intentionally and voluntarily with a specific intent to do something that the law forbids or to fail to do something which the law requires to be done. In short, with a negative purpose either to lower or disobey the law. This mainly signifies a deliberate action which is done with evil intent or with a bad motive. Thus, for an act to constitute contempt the order of the court must be capable of being executed by a person charged in normal circumstances. It shouldn’t require any sort of an extraordinary effort and nor should it be, either wholly or in part, dependent on any omission or act of a third party for their compliance.[5]

Essentials for committing willful contempt of court’s order:

  1. Disobedience of the order, decree, etc. of the Court or breach of an undertaking given to the Court; and If the disobedience is carried out to the court’s order which was not having the jurisdiction of the case, then will be liable under the contempt of court.[6] The burden of proof lies upon the alleged person that the court was not having the jurisdiction to hear the case.
  2. The disobedience or breach is willful: The contempt power cannot be used unless the court is satisfied beyond doubt that the person has deliberately and intentionally violated the order of the court.[7]

Landmarks Cases

  • Courts on its Own Motion v. N.S. Kumar, 1995 Cr LJ 1261:

It was held that the person having the knowledge of the order of the court cannot escape from the responsibility to adhere to it, and cannot escape from the liabilities for the non-fulfillment of the same. The order of contempt of the court is usually passed against the person against whom it has been passed. The multiple excuses cannot be used, such as waiting for the instruction from the court, etc.  

  • B.K. Rao v. Prithwish Kor, (1989) IT CHN 58 (DB).

In this case, it was held that breach of an undertaking given by the court will also be considered as a contempt of court, if done willfully. 

Breach of undertaking: When a person is charged with a criminal offence and released from custody pending its disposition (bail), the person will be released subject to conditions. Conditions have full legal effect and must be complied with.[8]

The breach of an undertaking is considered as contempt of court in the circumstances when the contemner obtains a benefit by making mendacious representation to the court, or when the contemner tries to clog the course of justice and tries to disrespect the judiciary.

  • Rama Narang Vs. Ramesh Narang MANU/SC/0025/, recently, on 19th January 2021, Supreme court, in this case, referred to the case of Debabrata Bandhopadhyaya v. State of W.B. [ AIR 1969 SC 189], observed that intention behind the contempt plays a major role. Individually only the factor of non-compliance by a person should not be found to be the reason behind the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ, or any other process, but also satisfy that it was done willfully. Law of contempt is called for when the lapse is intentionally and in disregard of one’s duty and in rebellion of authority.

Also, referring to the case of Hrishikesh Sanyal vs. A.P. Bagchi and Radhey Lal vs. Niranjan Nath, the bench stated that if a person takes recourse to other judicial proceedings, due to the pendency of the case, this will not amount to contempt of the court, even though the latter proceedings put the other party at a loss.           

  • Niaz Mohammad and Ors. v. State of Haryana and Ors. MANU/SC/0063/1995: It was held in this case that the party on whose favour the order is been passed by the court has the power to move the court for initiating the order, if the contemner is not enforcing the order passed. But such a proceeding is not like an execution proceeding under the Code of Civil Procedure. Once a decree has been passed it is the duty of the court to execute the decree whatever may be the consequence thereof.  The court has the duty to find where the disobedience of its order was willful or not. If the court is satisfied that the circumstances were in such a manner that it was impossible to execute the order then the contemner can be set free from the liability of the contempt of court.
  • Sudhir Vasudeva and Ors. vs. M. George Ravishekaran and Ors. MANU/SC/0078/2014: It was stated in this case that the court has the power to punish for the contempt both under constitutional as well as Contempt of Court Act, 1971. Thus, the court while excising these power has to be very cautious, and have to watch every aspect and circumstances, to come to the conclusion of that its willful disobedience of the court’s order, degree, verdict. This will set an example to the others, who have a high level of confidence in the judiciary.
  • Dushyant Somal v. Sushma Somal MANU/SC/0540/1981: Nor is a person to be punished for Contempt of Court for disobeying an order of Court aside from when the rebellion is set up past a sensible uncertainty, the norm of confirmation being comparable, regardless of whether not the equivalent, as in a criminal continuing. Where the individual affirmed to be in scorn can put under the steady gaze of the Court adequate material to reason that it is difficult to comply with the request, the Court won’t be advocated in rebuffing the claimed contemner.
  • Ram Kishan vs. Tarun Bajaj and Ors.  (17.01.2014 – SC): MANU/SC/0040/2014 The court’s jurisdiction to punish an offender for the contumacious act is a powerful weapon of the court, to uphold its dignity. Also with great power comes great responsibility, thus the court is also bound to be very cautious while giving effect to such power and take a decision that is beyond reasonable doubt.  The proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature, and therefore, the standard of proof required in these proceedings is beyond all reasonable doubt. It would rather be hazardous to impose a sentence for contempt on the mere probabilities.

Sukumar Mukhopadhayay v. T.D. Karamchandani, 1995 Cr LT 1610 at p. 1612. What is required to avoid the contempt proceeding is substantial compliance with the order of the Court. No court including the Court of contempt is qualified to take frivolities and trivialities into account while criticizing an individual with the conduct of the person against whom contempt proceeding is taken. In the event that the request is generously consented to, the contempt won’t lie.

Punishment for contempt of court, under Contempt of Court Act, 1971

The power vested in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court to punish for contempt is a special and rare power available both under the Constitution as well as the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. In 1991, the Supreme Court has ruled that it has the power to punish for the contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts, and tribunals functioning in the entire country. However, under the civil contempt of the court’s order, it has been seen that apology have been granted by the judges if the contempt is of such a manner that can be ignored without compromising the dignity of the court.

  • Section 10: The power of high court to deal with the contempt offences of subordinate courts.

Every High Court will have to exercise the same jurisdiction, authority, powers and authority, in accordance with the similar procedure and practice, in regard of disdain of courts subordinate to it as it has and practices in regard of contempt of itself. Provided that no High Court shall take cognizance of the contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate to it where such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code.

  • Section 11: High Court’s power to try offences committed or offenders found outside its jurisdiction.

A High Court shall have jurisdiction to inquire into or try contempt of itself or of any court subordinate to it, regardless of whether the scorn is affirmed to have been submitted inside or outside the nearby furthest reaches of its locale, and whether the individual claimed to be blameworthy of disdain is inside or outside such cutoff points.

  • Section 12: Punishment for the contempt of the court
    • Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, no court shall impose a sentence in excess of that specified in sub-section (1) for any contempt in respect of its own or subordinate court. Section 15 of the act, cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases.
    • In the case of any criminal contempt of a subordinate court, the High Court may take action on a reference made to it by the subordinate court.[9]

Limitation Period for initiating proceeding for contempt of court

Under Section 20 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, the limitation period has been prescribed, i.e. one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed. Thus, after the expiry of the period of one year no court can initiate any proceeding for the contempt act.

Defenses to Civil Contempt

The following defenses can be taken by the person who is accused of Civil Contempt of case:

  • Lack of Knowledge of the request: An individual cannot be held committed for Contempt of Court in case he doesn’t have even the remotest clue about the solicitation given by the court or he proclaims to be unaware. There is a commitment definitive on the productive party by the courts that the solicitation that has passed should be served to the Individual by the post or before long or through the ensured copy. It will in general be viably contended by the contemner that the affirmed copy of the solicitation was not authoritatively served to him.
  • The failure done ought not be: If someone is contending under this protect then he can say that the situation was out of his capacity to control. Moreover its depends upon the facts of the case and circumstances and the arguments disposed by the parties.


The above discussion upon the willful disobedience of the court’s order, degree, verdict, etc has been explained through which we can clearly state that how the mental elements like motive and intention play a major role in the civil contempt of court. Trust, faith and confidence of the citizens in the judiciary is sine qua non for the existence of Rule of Law.

The motivation of contempt jurisdiction is to maintain the nobility and majesty of the legal authorities. Contempt powers assist the authority to carry out their duties of adjudicating cases without fear, favour, affection, and ill will. But together with all these obligations, in the year 2006, a new defense for the contempt of court was added that is truth if the act done with bona fide intention which is otherwise done will amount to contempt of court. Not even in legal professional has been provided with any kind of an exception to the punishment for the misconduct and contempt of the court. The miscount by the legal professional can be punished in accordance with section 35 of the Advocates Act.          

Thus we can conclude that from time to time court will take a step to safeguard its authority and we being the citizen for whose justice it has been set must obey its decision and act.

[1] . Kapoor Chand and Ors. vs. Sanjay Shukla and Ors. (16.03.2021 – ALLHC) : MANU/UP/0480/

[2]  The Constitution of India,  https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI_1.pdf

[3]  The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, https://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/contempt.pdf

[4] Sushila Raje Holkar v. Anil Kak (Retd.) MANU/SC/7555/2008

[5] Ashok Paper Kamgar Union and Ors. vs Dharam Godha And Ors. AIR 2004 SC 105

[6] Sultan Ali Nanghiara v. Nur Hussain, AIR 1949 Lah 131

[7] C. Elumalai v. A.G.L. Arudayaraj, AIR 2009 SC 2214.

[8]  Breach of court order/ fail to comply, https://armouredsuits.ca/defence/breaches-of-court-order/

[9] The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, https://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/contempt.pdf