Contempt and Mens rea

Standard of proof required for Contempt

The standard of proof required to establish a charge of ‘criminal contempt’ is the same as in any other criminal proceeding. It is all the more necessary to insist upon strict proof of such charge when the act or omission complained of is committed by the respondent under colour of his office as a judicial officer.

Even if it could be urged that mens rea, as such, is not an indispensable ingredient of the offence of contempt, the courts are loath to punish a contemner, if the act or omission complained of, was not willful.

(See S. Abdul Karim v. M.K. Prakash, 1976 CrLJ 641 : 1976 AIR (SC) 859 : 1976 CAR 124 : 1976 CrLR (SC) 102 : 1976 Ker LT 184 : 1976 SCC (Cr) 2170)

It must be realised that our system of courts often results in delay of one kind or another. The remedy for it is reform and punishment departmentally. Punishment under the law of Contempt is called for when the lapse is deliberate and in disregard of one’s duty and in defiance of authority. To take action in an unclear case is to make the law of contempt do duty for other measures and is not to be encouraged.

[Debabrata Bandopadhyay vs The State Of West Bengal,1969 AIR SC 189, 1969 SCR (1) 304 on 2 July, 1968]

However in English Law it is well settled that to prove contempt two ingredients must be established. First actus reus i.e. the relevant fact constituting contempt and mes rea i.e. the necessary intent or guilty mind.

Read more about contempt and mens rea here.

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