Saturday, October 5, 2013

Costs / Compensation in Contempt Proceedings

Pakistan SC dismissed the contempt
charges against Imran Khan,
who criticized the role of the judiciary and
the election commission terming it shameful
Under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 contempt has been classified into (1) civil contempt and (2) criminal contempt. Civil contempt includes “wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court”, whereas criminal contempt covers cases in which a persons does anything which scandalises, lowers the authority of or interferes with the functioning of the Court. (Image taken from here.)

When we hear the word ‘civil’ we think of ‘remedy’, ‘compensation’ or ‘damages’. Interestingly the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 does not provide for any of these. 

Whereas criminal contempt may be a wrong against the Court itself, in the case of civil contempt the other party in whose favour the judgement, decree, direction, order, writ, etc is passed, also suffers. Civil and criminal contempt are both punishable, but the wronged party is not entitled to claim compensation under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.  Although the Act classifies the two types of contempt, the punishment for both is the same – 6 months simple imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 2,000 or both (s. 12).

There are a few cases of contempt in which the Courts demanded the contemner to pay costs. However, it is not clear as to under which provision of law this relief is granted. It is submitted by the author that since this issue was never raised, wrongs caused due to contempt of court entitle a wronged party to compensation under general principles of torts. But once again, if that is the case, should compensation be claimed in a separate suit/ petition? Or can they be claimed in the contempt petition itself? Courts have in limited cases granted compensation even in the contempt petition itself. Ironically Courts have been more relaxed in granting compensation in cases of criminal contempt.

Civil Contempt:- In the contempt petition Venigalla Suguna vs S.V. Prasad, I.A.S. Vice Chairman  [1996 (1) ALT 204, (1996) IILLJ 321 AP] (Read the entire case here.) the Court directed payment of the full emoluments to widow of a deceased employee on finding that its order directing that she be given compassionate appointment was not complied with.

In Midland Marts -v- Hobday ([1989] 1 WLR 1143, (1989) 3 All ER 246) Vinelott J said: "I can see no reason in principle why the Court, if satisfied that the facts proved at the hearing of a motion to commit constitute both a breach of the undertaking to the Court and a breach of contract and also that there is no tenable ground of defence to an action for damages for breach of contract, should not direct an enquiry into damages or in a sufficiently clear case make a summary award of damages".

Criminal Contempt:- In Advocate General, High Court Of Andhra Pradesh vs Executive Engineer [1998 (1) ALT 209 (D.B.)] (full case available here.) the contemner was directed to deposit Rs. 3 lakhs in Chief Minister Relief Fund  since the work of the Court suffered for three days due to the contemptuous act. The writ petition was accordingly disposed of.

Note: The power of the High Courts to punish for contempt is also covered under Article 215 of the Constiution of India:-  “High Courts to be courts of record Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”.

Also, read order XXXIX Rule 2-A of Civil Procedure Code.

If relief under the C.P.C. is available, case of civil contempt will not lie.


Keywords: Compensation, costs, damages, Contempt of Court, Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt petition, India, reliefs, remedy, punishement


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