Contempt can be classified as civil or criminal and direct or indirect. Criminal contempt can be mainly defined as the disobedient or open disrespect towards the court of law. This means that even though it might have aroused out of a civil or criminal case, but it punishes the conduct that violates the court’s rule, rather than penal statute or some criminal law.

Criminal contempt of court is punitive in nature. It is mainly defined under section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. It is the more serious and the aggravated form of offence. For example, if a court issues an order addressing to the jail superintendence to release a prisoner and if he does not do so that will be considered as the “criminal contempt”.

Criminal contempt is the direct contempt and has made the judges annoyance directly. It may be committed by any person for example visitor, witnesses, police, advocates etc. Even the judges or the magistrates are not exempted from this. In case of Criminal contempt, a contemner is not allowed to put forward evidence or circumstances to justify the imputations.

The following act is the criminal contempt:-

  • scandalizes, or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any Court; or
  • prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
  • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Section 503 of the IPC deals with the criminal intimidation

It states that” Whoever threatens another with an injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of anyone in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat, commits criminal intim¬idation. Explanation.—a threat to injure the reputation of any deceased person in whom the person threatened is interested, is within this section. Illustration a, for the purpose of inducing b to desist from prosecuting a civil suit, threatens to burn B’s house. A is guilty of criminal intimidation.

Section 504 of IPC

Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.—Whoever intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Section 506 of IPC states the punishment for criminal intimidation

This section states that- “Whoever commits, the offence of criminal intimidation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both;

If threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc- and if the threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, or to cause the destruction of any property by fire, or to cause an offence punishable with death or [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or to impute, unchastely to a woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.

In the case Harihar Das v. the State of Bihar, in this case also there were all the ingredients of the criminal intimidation and it was declared as the criminal contempt and the punishment was also granted as mentioned under section 506 of IPC (Indian Penal Code)

Criminal contempt charges

Criminal contempt charges become separate charges from the underlying case. Unlike civil contempt sanctions, criminal contempt charges may live on after resolution of the underlying case.

One charged with criminal contempt generally gets the constitutional rights guaranteed to criminal defendants, including the right to counsel, right to put on a defence, and the right to a jury trial in certain cases. Charges of criminal contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, incarceration for contempt may begin immediately, before the contempt charge is adjudicated and the sentence decided. Depending on the jurisdiction and the case, the same judge who decided to charge a person with contempt may end up presiding over the contempt proceedings. Criminal contempt can bring punishment including jail time and/or a fine.