Contempt of Lawful Authority by Public Servants

Contempt of Lawful Authority by Public Servants

Good administration is vital for any successful government; public servants are given certain rights and privileges to protect the public from abuse of power by public servants and vice versa. The term public servant may be defined to signify any person duly appointed and invested with authority to administer any part of the executive power if the government or to execute any other public duty imposed by law, whether judicial, ministerial or mixed. Chapter X of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offences relating to contempt of lawful authority. The offences are

  • Absconding to avoid service of summons
  • Absconding to escape from proceedings
  • Non-attendance in obedience to an order from a public servant
  • Omission to produce relevant documents
  • Refusal to sign or take an oath
  • Obstructing the sale of property or illegal purchase
  • Threatening the public servant who is responsible-

Section 172  deals with, if a person absconds intentionally from a place to avoid being served with the summons. The punishment for this offence is a simple imprisonment which may extend up to one month or fine which may extend up to five hundred rupees.

Section173 deals with the prevention of summons intentionally, various acts are considered as an offence under this section:

  • Removing the fixing summons. 
  • Preventing the affixing of lawful summons.
  • Preventing the lawful making of any proclamation.

The punishment for preventing a summons intentionally is simple imprisonment which may extend up to one month and fine which may extend up to five hundred rupees.

Section 174 deals with offences relating to non appearance in response to a proclamation. Section 174 A inserted by the 2005 amendment prevents the non appearance in the response of proclamation. Section 174A deals with non-appearance in response to proclamation provided under Sub-section 1 of Section 82 of the Code of criminal procedure. If the court has all reasons to believe that the person has absconded or is concealing himself so that the warrant cannot be executed then the court can publish a written proclamation asking him to appear within thirty days. The punishment under this section is imprisonment which may extend up to seven years and also fine.

Section 175 of the IPC deals with the intentional omission of production of documents to public servants; let us understand this with an illustration, A being legally bound to produce a document before a district court intentionally omits to produce the same. A has committed the offence defined in this section.

Section 176 deals with the intentional omission to give notice or information. This section applies to persons upon whom an obligation is imposed by law to give or furnish certain information to public servants.

Section 177 of the IPC deals with the furnishing of false information, this section makes giving of false information to a public servant an offence just as the preceding section 176 makes omissions to give information punishable. The first part punishes a person, who furnishes false information, is bound to furnish true information. The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable and may be tried by a Magistrate.

Section 178  deals with refusal of oath or affirmation when necessary and the punishment, this section is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to six months and a fine of rupees thousand.

 Section 179 and 180 deal with the refusal to answer the questions by a public servant and refusal to sign statements provided by them respectively.The offence under section 179 also applies to the accused; used in section 161(1) CrPC 1973 are ‘any person acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case.The punishment for not answering the question properly is simple imprisonment for a term which may extend up to six months or fine of thousand rupees. The punishment under Section 180is simple imprisonment which may extend up to three months and a fine of rupees five hundred.

Section 182 deals with providing false information to the public servants in order to cause injury to the other person by using the lawful authority of public servants. For example, A informs a Magistrate that Z, a police officer, subordinate to such Magistrate has been guilty of neglect of duty or misconduct, knowing such information to be false and knowing it to be likely that the information will cause the Magistrate to dismiss Z, A has committed the office defined under this section. The information provided to the public servant must be false.

To be convicted under this section it is important that the person complaining must know it is a piece of false information, if the person has all reasons to believe it is a piece of true information then they cannot be convicted under this section.

Section 183 to 185 deals with offences relating to the sale of property effected through the legal process. The main offences are:

  • Resistance to the taking of property by lawful authority.
  • Obstructing the sale of the property.
  • Illegal purchase or bid for property offered.

The punishment provided in Section 183 of the IPC for resistance to the taking of property is imprisonment for six months or fine of thousand rupees or both. The punishment for obstructing the sale of the property is imprisonment of a term of one month or fine of five hundred rupees. Section 185 gives punishment for illegal purchase or bid for property offered, the punishment is imprisonment for a month or fine which may extend up to two hundred rupees.

Section 186 states that, if a person voluntarily obstructs any public servant who is discharging his public functions, it would be considered as an offence and the person can be punished with imprisonment of either term which may extend up to three months or fine of rupees five hundred or both. Whenever there is a need to assist the public servant and if a person intentionally omits it, then he can be punished under Section 187 with simple imprisonment which may extend to one month or fine which may extend up to two years.

Section 188 of the act deals with disobedience of an order that is duly promulgated by a lawful authority. The essential ingredients of this section are:

  • There should be a valid order or promulgation.
  • The person must be aware of the presence of such promulgation or order.
  • The disobedience must be voluntary.
  • The disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction or annoyance.
  • The disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to life, health or safety.
  • It tends to cause a riot or an affray.

This section makes disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to do is in the public interest punishable.

Section 189 gives protection to the public servants against any threat from the public. The threat of injury can be for two reasons, it can be used to induce the public servant to do any act that is unlawful or it can be used to restrict the servant from doing his duty. The person who is providing with such a threat can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to two years or with fine or both. Section 190 gives protection to the public and it enables them to get help from the public servants. If any person holds out any threat of injury to the person who makes the legal application and prevents them from getting help from lawful authorities then the person can be punished under section 190 with imprisonment which may extend up to a year or with fine or both.

“The views of the authors are personal

Frequently Asked Questions

What is contempt of court?

Contempt of court is the offence of being disobedient or disrespectful towards the court, its officers, or the proceedings of a court of law.

What is the meaning of promulgate?

Promulgate means to formally proclaim or declare a new statutory or administrative law as in effect after it receives final approval. It means to make known, announce, or declare officially.

What does it mean to be charged with criminal contempt?

Criminal contempt of court is a criminal charge which is employed to punish behaviour that interferes with the proceedings or orders of a court. Criminal indirect contempt of court is based on violation of a court order, whereas criminal direct contempt of court is based on conduct at court proceedings.


  • The Indian Penal Code, K.D. Gaur, fourth Edition, Universal Law Publishing Co.
  • Criminal Law, PSA Pillai, 11th Edition, Lexis Nexis
  • Cecil Turner.J. (2013), Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Textbook of Criminal Law, Glanville Williams, fourth Edition, Sweet & Maxwell South Asian Edition
Srishti John
Srishti is a law student at CMR School of Legal Studies, Bangalore. In her time at law school, she has found herself lost in subjects like Jurisprudence and Criminology. She loves a good debate and people who challenge her to become better. She is a Political Science graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Her resolutions involve reading 30 books in 2020 and spreading a message of joy, kindness and love. She wants to pursue her LLM and aid the violated and vulnerable in their quest for equality & justice.