CONTEMPT OF COURTIn recent years, there have been numerous cases of contempt of court committed by newspapers resulting in considerable hardships to journalists, who have been fined or imprisoned. The working journalists must, therefore, have a comprehensive knowledge of the operation of the law relating to contempt of court.
The principles underlying the law of contempt vis-a-vis the press are as follows :
(1) It is a contempt of court to scandalize the court or offend against the dignity of a judge by attributing to him dishonesty or impropriety or incompetence, regardless of the fact whether the case with regard to which the offending remarks were made is pending or has been decided.
(2) It is a contempt of court to publish an article in a newspaper commenting on the proceedings of a pending criminal case or a civil suit reflecting on the judge, jury, the parties, their witnesses or counsel appearing in the case. It is immaterial whether the remarks are made with reference to a trial actually proceeding or with reference to a trial which is yet to proceed, provided that the comment has a tendency to prejudice the fair trial or influence the decision.
(3) It is a contempt of court to publish any matter affecting the proceedings of a pending case which has a tendency to prejudice the public for or against a party before the cause is finally heard. It is not necessary to prove that a judge or jury will be prejudiced.
(4) General criticism of the conduct of a judge, not calculated to obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice, or the due administration of law in any particular case, even though libelous, does not constitute a contempt of court.
Other Forms of Contempt :The circumstances in which contempt of court can be committed are numerous.The following list shows the various ways in which the journalist may unwittingly get involved in court proceedings :
(1) Comments on the conduct and behaviour of petitioner in lunacy proceedings.
(2) Comments on the conduct of a debtor in bankruptcy proceedings.
(3) Comment on prisoners.
(4) Imputation of fraud or dishonesty.
(5) Charge of undue influence.
(6) Making libelous statement on parties or witnesses.
(7) Comment against conduct of defendant.
(8) Abusing persons making affidavits.
(9) Making allegations of prejury.
(10) Making suggestions that plaintiff's case is untenable.
(11) Reflection on goods supplied by the plaintiff.
(12) Disputing validity of patent in a newspaper during pend-ency of suit.
(13) Advertisement offering reward 'for securing evidence in a pending matrimonial suit.
(14) Advertisement as to proof of adultery of wife.
(15) Publication before hearing of documents connected a with the cause, e.g, counsel’s brief, plaintiff‘s statement of claim containing allegation against defendant, affidavit or write charging fraud, interim report of receiver, list of creditors in bankruptcy proceedings.
(16) Publication of inaccurate proceedings.
(17) Theatrical impersonation of prisoner.
(18) Publication of comments on proceedings held in camera.
(19) Publication of article after conviction but before judgment.
(20) Interesting paragraph anticipating result of the pending case.
(21) Making reference to a case only for political purpose without mentioning the names of the parties in the action.
(22) Publishing photograph of an accused where question of. his identification is involved.
(23) Publishing before hand what purports to be the defence to be put forward by an accused.
(24) Displaying misleading headlines.
(25) Conducting an independent investigation into a crime for which a person has been arrested and publishing the result of that investigation.