Supreme Court imposes token penalty of Re 1 on Prashant Bhushan as punishment
On August 31, 2020, the Supreme Court imposed Re 1 a token penalty on activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan as punishment in criminal contempt case. The judgement was pronounced by a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra.
If Mr Bhushan fails to pay the fine, he shall be jailed three months and will also be debarred from practicing law for a period of three years. The bench took note that Bhushan refused to apologize despite repeated opportunities. The apex court held him guilty of criminal contempt.
Why is Contempt power needed?
The courts need contempt power to punish willful disobedience to court orders as well as interference in administration of justice and threats to judges. It exists to insulate the judicial system from unfair criticism and also to prevent fall in the reputation of judiciary in the eye of the public.
Contempt of Court Act, 1971
It outlines the procedure in relation to punishment for contempt and also in relation to investigation. It divided the contempt into two categories namely civil contempt and criminal contempt. Civil Contempt is willful disobedience of the court. The criminal contempt includes act that scandalizes the court, interferes with administration of justice and prejudices judicial proceeding.
Scandalizing of court means undermining public confidence in the judiciary.
The Law Commission of India has said that there is a need to retain provision regarding contempt of courts. It has also suggested that the definition of contempt of court definition should be restricted to civil contempt alone.
Article 129 of the constitution conferred the Supreme Court the power to punish contempt of itself. Article 215 gives similar powers to high courts.
In 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that it also has powers to punish for contempt of high courts.