The unprecedented case of Justice C S Karnan

Justice Karnan made history by taking on the Supreme Court and CJI head on. It was a sad chapter in the glorious annals of Indian judiciary.

The unprecedented case of Justice C S Karnan

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  1. Punished for contempt : The Supreme Court sentenced Calcutta High Court judge Justice C S Karnan to six months in prison on charges of contempt of court. Earlier, Justice Karnan’s arrest orders came a day after he sentenced Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and and six other judges of the Supreme Court to five years in jail under the SC/ST Act. That is totally unprecedented in Indian history! In its order, the apex court said “We are of the unanimous opinion that Justice CS Karnan has committed contempt of this court, of the judiciary as also the judicial process...of the gravest nature”.
  2. Karnan wrote to the PM : The controversy began in January when Karnan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order an investigation against judges of the Madras high court and the apex court of corruption. On February 8, the Supreme Court found him in contempt. He was asked for an explanation but he repeatedly ignored the orders of the court. On March 10, the court issued a bail-able warrant and took away judicial work from him. He rejected the warrant and accused his colleagues and seniors of caste bias, saying he was being singled out for being a Dalit.
  3. Moves and counter-moves : This was followed by series of orders by the Supreme Court and Justice Karnan, who remained defiant and continued to address the press and issue diktats from his home in Kolkata. Earlier in May, the SC ordered Karnan to appear before a medical boardfor a mental health check-upbut the judge refused to do so. The legality of the SC order leaves much to be desired as no person can be medically examined without an informed consent.
  4. Punished just before retirement : Justice Karnan is due to retire in June, hence some senior lawyers arguing the case urged the court to either send him to jail only after he relinquishes office or drop the contempt proceedings. To this, the court said “Contempt is contempt… it has no colour. Whether you are a common man or a judge it doesn’t matter”. That is very reassuring.
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  6. Removal of a judge – the finer points : Can contempt powers be used to circumvent the provisions of Article 124 read with Article 217 of the Constitution? Does the removal of judicial functions of a judge not amount to removal of a judge? Does sending a judge to prison not amount to removing him from performance of his duties of office?
  7. Technically speaking … The Supreme Court has no discipline jurisdiction over the high courts and their judges, as they are not subordinate to the Supreme Court in such matters. The parliament alone has the power to remove a judge. Neither can the conduct of a judge be discussed, except on a removal motion. Some experts say that the Supreme Court could have sent a report to Parliament requesting a motion to be moved. Such a course was adopted by Justice Balakrishnan in the case of Justice Sen of Calcutta.  Senior lawyer Indira Jaisingh said the Supreme Court order has set a dangerous precedent.
  8. Endgame : The situation could have easily de-escalated had Justice Karnan taken a reconciliatory approach. Unfortunately, now it seems difficult to move in that direction.
  9. Deep Dive : For serious students and learners, here are more useful links to study – (1) Indian Judiciary versus Executive, (2) Multiple issues related to Judiciary, (3) Videos – Indian politics, (4) Videos – Constitution and Law

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Bodhi Booster: The unprecedented case of Justice C S Karnan
The unprecedented case of Justice C S Karnan
Justice Karnan made history by taking on the Supreme Court and CJI head on. It was a sad chapter in the glorious annals of Indian judiciary.
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