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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice C S Karnan of the Calcutta High Court addresses a press conference at his residence in Kolkata.

Justice C S Karnan of the Calcutta High Court addresses a press conference at his residence in Kolkata.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Justice C.S. Karnan has been in the news ever since he was appointed judge on March 30, 2009. He has often gone public with his complaints about the judiciary. He first hit the national headlines in November 2011 when his complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, alleging that he was being harassed and victimised by brother judges because he was a Dalit, became public. This year, he refused to stay out of the headlines with his tit-for-tat orders against Supreme Court judges.

Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Delhi High Court dismisses Justice Karnan’s plea against contempt law

Justice C.S. Karnan addressing journalists at the State guest house in Chennai on May 9, 2017.

Justice C.S. Karnan addressing journalists at the State guest house in Chennai on May 9, 2017.   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

The Delhi High Court on August 23, 2017 dismissed a plea of jailed former Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan challenging the constitutional validity of the Contempt of Courts Act. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar said, “We do not find any merit in the writ petition. It is dismissed.”

The court rejected the submission made on behalf of the petitioner that the principles of natural justice were not followed in awarding him the jail term of six months, saying that Justice Karnan’s “communications, order and conduct established that he had full knowledge of the orders of the Supreme Court, proceedings as well as the materials against him”.

Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

It also noted that petitioner Justice Karnan was served with a notice to show cause as well as he was given “repeated and adequate opportunities to present his defence”.

Justice Karnan, in his petition filed through advocate Mathews J. Nedumpara, had sought a declaration from the High Court that the apex court’s May 9, 2017 order and further proceedings under it were “unconstitutional and void” as the principles of natural justice were allegedly not followed.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan petitions Ram Nath Kovind seeking remission of sentence

C.S. Karnan

C.S. Karnan   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

His legal team had said that they aim to make it the “first petition submitted physically and electronically” to the new President.

Former Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan’s petition to the new President Ram Nath Kovind seeking remission of his six months prison sentence has been e-mailed to the Rashtrapati Bhavan by his legal team on Tuesday. Justice (retd.) Karnan is currently serving the prison sentence awarded to him by the Supreme Court for contempt of court, at the Presidency Jail in Kolkata. Earlier Justice (retd.) Karnan’s legal team had said that they aim to make it the “first petition submitted physically and electronically” to the new President.

 

“We have e-mailed Justice (retd.) Karnan’s petition to the new President, to his secretary, additional secretary and private secretary at 11 am today (Tuesday),” Justice Karnan’s lawyer A.C.Philip told The Hindu. He also said that so far they have not received any response. “We will also be sending the petition by post today (Tuesday) to the President,” said Mr. Philip.

However, Justice (retd.) Karnan’s lawyers will not be able to meet the new President and submit the petition in person on Tuesday due to the swearing-in ceremony. “We tried to get an appointment today with the President or his secretary but were told from the Rashtrapati Bhavan that it will not be possible due to the swearing-in ceremony,” said Mr. Philip. He also said that they will be trying to get an appointment with Mr. Kovind on Wednesday.

“Inscrutable are the ways of the almighty. It could be His will that Justice (retd.) C.S. Karnan’s be the first representation which Your Excellency as the President of India on the very first day of assumption of office. And that too, seeking the exercise of your Excellency’s extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 72 of the Constitution of India,” stated the petition.

 

Referring to the President’s power to grant pardon or to suspend, remit or commute sentences under Article 72 of the Constitution the petition urges the new President to either remit or suspend the sentence awarded to Justice(retd.) Karnan till the hearing of his appeal to “recall/review” the Supreme Court’s order.

In February, the Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice against him for allegedly degrading the judicial institution. Justice (retd.) Karnan had written to the Prime Minister and allegedly accused several retired and sitting Supreme Court and High Court judges of corruption.

A seven-judge Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, heard Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi who said that Justice (retd.) Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Jailing a judge: On Justice Karnan arrest

Justice Karnan’s imprisonment should have been avoided to keep the judiciary’s dignity

The imprisonment of Justice C.S. Karnan, who recently retired as a judge of the Calcutta High Court, for contempt is the culmination of a series of unfortunate and unpleasant developments. It was a step that was best avoided in the interest of maintaining the dignity of the judiciary. It is indeed true that Justice Karnan’s offences in making wild and totally unsubstantiated allegations against a number of fellow judges, and his tactics of intimidation against Chief Justices who tried over the years to discipline him, were shocking and completely unacceptable. However, a Supreme Court that allowed him to enter the hallowed portals of the higher judiciary would have done better had it adopted a more pragmatic approach. Mr. Karnan was due to retire and it would have been sufficient if he was allowed to do so under a dark cloud of dishonour, after spending his last days in office stripped of judicial work. It is an extraordinarily low moment for the institution that a man who the Supreme Court felt needed his mental health evaluated should be sentenced for contempt of court, arrested and sent to jail. As for alternatives to imprisonment, recommending his impeachment to Parliament was a possibility the Supreme Court may have also done well to consider. There is no defence of Justice Karnan’s disdainful refusal to answer the contempt charge or going into hiding to avoid arrest for nearly seven weeks — actions that only served to reinforce his waywardness and disregard for the law.

It is also time for some introspection within the judiciary on the manner in which judges are chosen. That someone as ill-suited to judicial office as Justice Karnan entered the superior judiciary exposes the inadequacies of the collegium system. The absence of a mechanism to discipline recalcitrant judges is another glaring lacuna in the existing system. With the Constitution prescribing impeachment by Parliament, a long-winded and cumbersome process, as the sole means to remove a judge, Chief Justices of the High Courts are at their wits’ end when it comes to dealing with refractory judges who are not amenable to any discipline or capable of self-restraint. Non-allotment of judicial work and transfer to another High Court are measures available for the purpose, but in Mr. Karnan’s case these hardly had any chastening effect. Instead, he continued to make the self-serving claim that he was being victimised because he was a Dalit. He now has the option of moving the court to seek suspension of his sentence or appealing to the President for its remission. No one would really grudge Mr. Karnan an opportunity to secure his liberty, but one can only hope that in future he does not use his time in prison to play to the gallery and portray himself as a martyr in the cause of fighting corruption in the judiciary.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan: a long history of confrontation with colleagues

C.S. Karnan being taken by the West Bengal police to Kolkata from the Chennai airport on Wednesday.

C.S. Karnan being taken by the West Bengal police to Kolkata from the Chennai airport on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Documents reveal that many of former HC judge’s peers were so afraid of his threats that they wanted to seek voluntary transfer

Allegations of misconduct by Justice C.S. Karnan, who was sent to jail in Kolkata on Wednesday, to serve a six-month prison term for contempt of court, have been recorded in detail by past Chief Justices and Acting Chief Justices of the Madras High Court, where he served between 2009 and 2016.

Mr. Karnan had a long history of confrontation and conflict with his colleagues in the High Court and many of them were so afraid of his threats and harassment that they wanted to seek voluntary transfer to other High Courts.

Copies of correspondence among judges available with The Hindu show that Mr. Karnan was not only accused of repeated harassment of fellow judges and threatening them with prosecution, but also of seeking particular portfolios so that he could deal with “high potential cases.”

Further, there were complaints that he sat over judgments for many months after reserving orders and that he had no respect for court timings.

“He comes and goes as he pleases, sometimes sitting late and many times rising within an hour of sitting,” says a detailed letter from then Chief Justice, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, now a judge of the Supreme Court, on April 22, 2015.

Written complaints

In some cases, Mr. Karnan disposed of the matters after written complaints were brought to his notice.

The letter summarised the charges and complaints against Mr. Karnan. “Inability to get along with any of his colleagues”, “his perception that he is ragged by his colleagues”, “the threats held out by him to other judges,” “abusive language to his own colleagues, including women judges”, “his obsession with particular rosters, considered by him to be ‘high potential cases’” and “grave doubts being raised both on his competence and character”, are some instances of his conduct found in it.

 

Justice Kaul pointed out the irony in Mr. Karnan threatening one and all with action under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, while his two principal targets (Justice V. Dhanapalan and Justice S. Manikumar) are from a SC community.

In November 2011, Justice Karnan complained to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) that he was being victimised and humiliated by other judges.

The then Chief Justice, M.Y. Eqbal, wrote to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) explaining the developments. He noted that on October 8, 2011, Mr. Karnan made a written request for allotment of work either on the Writ Side or the Criminal Side on a regular basis. He was allotted bail and anticipatory bail portfolio two days later. “However, to my shock and surprise, within a few days of his dealing with Bail and Anticipatory Bail, I received oral complaints that Justice C.S. Karnan had granted bail in sensational cases involving State Ministers for other considerations.” The Chief Justice took back the portfolio only to be confronted by some advocates who took up Mr. Karnan’s cause.

In a letter to the CJI, Chief Justice R.K. Agrawal recorded how on January 8, 2014, Mr. Karnan barged into his chambers and hurled a volley of invectives.

Noting that he was getting complaints about the judge from many other judges and advocates, Justice Agrawal felt Mr. Karnan’s conduct tended to undermine the Chief Justice’s dignity. “In fact, some of my brother judges are afraid of him,” he said, while recommending Mr. Karnan’s transfer out of the Madras High Court at the earliest.

 

A memorandum signed by 20 judges recounts an incident at an official dinner at the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy in honour of new Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul. Mr. Karnan first sat in a lounge and started abusing the High Court’s Registrars. Later, he entered the Library Hall, where the judges were waiting, and “started abusing the judges in filthy language.”

They said, “He went on taunting every judge assembled at the dinner meet and challenged them to reply to his unwarranted, unimaginable and unpalatable questions…”

They also recalled that he had misbehaved at a Full Court meeting held when Justice Satish K. Agnihotri was the Acting CJ.

Mr. Karnan also raised issues concerning selection of judges alleging that corruption and favouritism were behind the names being considered. He frequently threatened to file complaints before the NCSC against judges and officials.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Supreme Court registry dismisses Justice Karnan’s writ petition

Justice C.S. Karnan

Justice C.S. Karnan  

The registry observes that judicial proceedings of the Supreme Court are not amenable to writ jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court registry dismissed a writ petition filed by Justice C.S. Karnan, a Calcutta High Court judge sentenced to six-month imprisonment for contempt, saying the finding of guilt against the convicted judge is final.

Justice Karnan had filed the petition claiming that the contempt proceedings held against him by a Bench of seven senior-most Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar was void ab inito. He had contended that the Bench had no jurisdiction over a sitting High Court judge.

In a detailed written order, the registry differed with Justice Karnan. It held that the “proceedings [of contempt] were decided on merits. After due consideration it was held that Justice Karnan had committed contempt of the gravest nature, resulting in the finding of guilt.” The registry noted that he was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for six months. It said these “findings have attained finality.”

It further observed that judicial proceedings of the Supreme Court are not amenable to writ jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution. It concluded that Justice Karnan’s petition was “not maintainable.”

Proceedings challenged

“No reasonable cause to receive the present writ petition under the provisions of Order XV, Rule 5 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013,” the registry held.

Justice Karnan, represented by advocate Mathews Nedumpara, had challenged the contempt proceedings under Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. He had argued that what triggered the proceedings was a letter from him to the Prime Minister alleging corruption in the judiciary.

“A judge is not a court, though without a judge there would be no court. By addressing the Prime Minister about some corrupt judges in a letter, I did not commit any contempt,” the petition had said.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Jail for contempt: Justice Karnan seeks President’s intervention

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan.

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The judge asks President to exercise powers under Article 72 to suspend his jail sentence.

A fresh representation has been made to the President on behalf of Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan seeking suspension of the Supreme Court order sentencing him to six-month imprisonment for contempt of court, a lawyer representing him has said.

Advocate Mathews J. Nedumpara said that he, along with other counsel representing the High Court judge and his son C.S. Sugan, met Ashok Mehta, the Secretary to the President, and handed over an application for suspension of the sentence under Article 72 of the Constitution.

He said they have sought personal audience for Justice Karnan with the President.

The lawyers took the ground in the application that Justice Karnan will be unable to exercise any remedy if he is arrested. The controversial judge has not been arrested yet.

Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

“Therefore, an application seeking the President’s intervention under Article 72 has been made,” Mr. Nedumpara said.

Article 72 states that the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence.

In the application it has been contended that the Supreme Court had acted without jurisdiction, the lawyer said.

On May 9, 2017, a seven-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar, had sentenced Justice Karnan to six months jail for contempt of court and ordered the West Bengal police to take him into custody forthwith.

Mr. Nedumpara had earlier claimed that the defence team made an identical representation to the President through an email. However, the President’s Office had said, “It was not aware of any such representation.”

The latest application has been filed after the apex court’s registry refused to accept Justice Karnan’s petition seeking recall of the May 9 verdict.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan tells SC he wants to challenge his conviction

Justice C.S. Karnan addressing journalists at the State guest house in Chennai on May 9, 2017. M. Vedhan

Justice C.S. Karnan addressing journalists at the State guest house in Chennai on May 9, 2017. M. Vedhan   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar tells the judge's lawyer that the Bench will consider the plea.

Justice C.S. Karnan has told the Supreme Court that he wants to challenge his conviction for contempt of court and sought the recall of the apex court’s May 9, 2017 order “as no charge was framed”.

 

Justice Karnan’s lawyer mentioned the plea before the Bench hearing petitions against triple talaq.

Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar told the lawyer that the Bench would consider the plea since it is mentioned.

 

Querying about the whereabouts of Justice Karnan, the Chief Justice asked lawyer Mathews J. Nedumpara to show papers authorising him to represent the judge.

The lawyer told the Bench that Justice Karnan was in Chennai on May 10, 2017 and showed his vakalatnama to Chief Justice Khehar.

Mr. Nedumpara also told the Bench that 12 advocates on record have refused to represent Justice Karnan.

(With inputs from PTI )

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

SC sentences Justice Karnan to six months imprisonment

Justice C.S. Karnan. File photo

Justice C.S. Karnan. File photo   | Photo Credit: PTI

Restrains media from publishing content of orders passed by him.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan guilty of contempt of court, judiciary and judicial process and sentenced him to six months imprisonment.

Justice Karnan will be forthwith taken into custody. 

"We are of the unanimous opinion that Justice C.S. Karnan has committed contempt of court, judiciary and judicial process of the gravest nature," Chief Justice J.S. Khehar mentioned in the order.  

The court also ordered media not to publish the content of orders passed by Justice Karnan, who on Monday issued an order sentencing eight Supreme Court judges to five years of “rigorous imprisonment” and imposed a fine of Rs. 1,00,000 each under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 and the amended Act of 2015.

Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: The saga of a defiant judge

The eight include members of the seven-judge Bench, headed by Justice Khehar which, in February, issued a contempt order against him on the charge of degrading the judiciary.

Justice Karnan, on his part, directed the Supreme Court judges “to appear before him on May 28” and later “reposted” the matter to May 1.

The Supreme Court Bench ordered Justice Karnan to be medically examined and on May 4, he refused to undergo medical tests as directed by the Supreme Court and told the team of doctors, in a written response, that he is “absolutely normal and with a stable mind.”

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan orders 5-year RI for CJI, 7 other SC judges

Justice C.S. Karnan

Justice C.S. Karnan  

Sentences them under SC/ST Act

Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan on Monday issued an order sentencing eight Supreme Court judges to five years of “rigorous imprisonment” and imposed a fine of ₹1,00,000 each under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 and the amended Act of 2015.

The eight include members of the seven-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, which had in February issued a contempt order against him.

“Under Section 3, sub-Section (1) (m) of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the accused 1 to 8 imposed to undergo a sentence of 5 years rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of ₹1,00,000/- each failing which to undergo further 6 months of imprisonment,” Justice Karnan said in his order issued during the day.

He awarded the same quantum of punishment under sub-Section (1) (r) and (1) (u) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

One week to pay fine

Justice Karnan said that the eight “shall undergo the sentence concurrently” and “fine amount shall be paid within a period of one week to the National Commission, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Constitutional body…New Delhi, from date of receipt of this order.”

He directed the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, to “execute the order.”

Justice Karnan also said that the eight judges “are at liberty to approach Parliament.”

“Until such time, the accused 1 to 8 shall not hold office and not be permitted to deal in any cases on the file of the Supreme Court, besides any administrative orders,” said the order.

Referring to one of his earlier orders, he directed the eight to “surrender their respective passports” to the “Commissioner of Police or any other police officer attached to the head of the department of the New Delhi Police.”

‘Heinous crime’

In his latest order, Justice Karnan also accused the eight of committing a “heinous crime” and said that the “same can be treated as caste discrimination.”

“Hence, all the accused 1 to 8 have no locus standi to continue as judges of the Supreme Court,” he stated.

On May 4, Justice Karnan refused to undergo medical tests as directed by the Supreme Court and told the team of doctors, in a written response, that he is “absolutely normal and with a stable mind.”

In February, the Supreme Court had issued a contempt notice against Justice Karnan for allegedly degrading the judiciary.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan refuses to undergo medical test

Tells a team of visiting doctors who arrived at his residence that he is absolutely normal and has a stable mind

A team of doctors from a State-run mental hospital, accompanied by police officers, arrived at Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan’s residence in New Town here on Thursday to examine him on the instructions of the Supreme Court.

Justice Karnan, however, refused to undergo a medical test and told the team that he was absolutely normal and had a stable mind.

“Further, it is my strong view that the Supreme Court order amounts to an insult [to] and harassment of a Dalit judge,” he said in his written response to the chairman of the medical board of the Calcutta Pavlov Hospital which came to conduct the medical test.

The team of doctors arrived at Justice Karnan’s residence at around 12 noon and left about an hour later.

On Monday, the Supreme Court had ordered that Justice Karnan be subjected to a medical examination on May 4 to ascertain whether he was “feigning mental imbalance.” It instructed the Director General of Police (DGP) of West Bengal to deploy police personnel for the purpose. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s order, Justice Karnan issued an order directing the DGP of New Delhi to produce the seven judges of the Supreme Court hearing his case, including the Chief Justice of India J.S.Kehar, before a psychiatric medical board attached the AIIMS Hospital in the capital city.

Non-bailable warrants

On Tuesday, Justice Karnan issued non-bailable warrants against the seven judges. “The Registrar General, High Court at Calcutta, is directed to issue the non-bailable warrants to the above named accused, to be executed through the Director General of Police or Commissioner of Police of New Delhi,” he said in his order.

Last month, Justice Karnan had directed the Supreme Court judges to appear before him on May 28 and later “reposted” the matter to May 1.

In February, the Supreme Court had issued a contempt of court notice against the judge for allegedly degrading the judiciary. The seven judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar heard Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi who argued that Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan issues warrant against CJI, six judges

On Monday, SC had ordered his medical examination

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan on Tuesday issued a non-bailable warrant against Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and six Supreme Court judges. The seven judges were on the Bench which had issued a contempt of court notice against him.

The development comes a day after the Supreme Court ordered a medical examination to be conducted on Justice Karnan to confirm if he was “feigning mental imbalance”.

“The Registrar General [of], High Court at Calcutta is directed to issue the non-bailable warrant to the above-named accused [seven Supreme Court judges] to be executed through the Director-General of Police or Commissioner of Police of New Delhi,” Justice Karnan said in his order.

He also described the seven judges as “absent” in his latest order.

On Monday, soon after the Supreme Court ordered the medical examination, Justice Karnan issued an order instructing the Director-General of Police, New Delhi, to produce the seven judges before a psychiatric board. Also refusing to undergo medical tests as directed by the Supreme Court, he said the Supreme Court order was a “harassment order” and an “insult” to a Dalit judge like him.

Twists and turns

In April, Justice Karnan directed the Supreme Court judges to appear before him on May 28 and later “reposted” the matter to May 1.

“The tenor of the press briefings, as also the purported order passed by him [directing Chief Justice Khehar and seven Supreme Court judges to appear before him in Kolkata on May 1], indicate that he may not be in a position to defend himself in the present proceedings,” the Supreme Court Bench said in its order for medical examination.

In February, the Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice against Justice Karnan for allegedly degrading the judicial institution.

A seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Khehar heard Attorney-General Mukul Rohtagi, who said Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges. Justice Karnan had written to the Prime Minister and allegedly accused several retired and sitting Supreme Court and High Court judges of corruption.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

SC orders Karnan to be medically examined

In focus: Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan outside the Supreme Court last month.

In focus: Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan outside the Supreme Court last month.  

Calcutta government doctors' board will examine Justice Karnan on May 4 and submit a report by May 8

Wondering whether Calcutta High Court judge Justice C.S. Karnan is “feigning mental imbalance”, a seven-judge Supreme Court Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, on Monday ordered him to be medically examined by a board of doctors in Kolkata.

The order was prompted by Justice Karnan’s statements to the media against the Bench and a recent ‘purported judicial order’ directing Chief Justice Khehar and seven Supreme Court judges to appear before him in Calcutta on May 1, 2017.

“The tenor of the press briefings, as also the purported order passed by him, indicate that he may not be in a position to defend himself in the present proceedings. We, therefore, consider it in the fitness of matters to direct him to be medically examined before proceeding with the matter,” the Bench ordered.

 

Hours after the SC order, Justice Karnan himself issued an order directing the Director General of Police of New Delhi to produce the seven judges before a psychiatric board.

He stated that the Supreme Court’s latest order was an “insult” to a Dalit judge.

“I further direct the Director General of Police, N. Delhi (New Delhi) to take all the accused judges…and produce them to a psychiatric medical board attached to the AIIMS Hospital, N.Delhi to conduct appropriate medical tests on the accused and submit a copy of the report on or before 7.5.2017 (May 7, 2017),” Justice Karnan said.

He stated that the Supreme Court’s latest order was not only a “harassment order” against his sanity but also an “insult.” “This kind of harassment order against my sanity is an additional insult to an innocent Dalit judge who is of sound health and mind,” he said. The judge also said that his wife and two sons, who are engineers, are “very much satisfied” with his physical and mental health.

Earlier in the Supreme Court, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that Justice Karnan’s conduct since the contempt proceedings started in February 8 this year was a “gross aggravation of contempt of the Supreme Court.”

Justice Karnan had passed orders in violation of the Supreme Court’s express direction to him to refrain from judicial and administrative work during the pendency of the current contempt proceedings.

“His order directed eight judges of the Supreme Court, including all My Lords to appear before him,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

“That is why he is not present here despite us ordering him to be so. He is waiting for us there [Kolkata],” Chief Justice Khehar responded.

The Bench ordered Justice Karnan to be examined by a board of government doctors in Kolkata on May 4 and ordered the DGP of West Bengal to depute police personnel for the purpose.

The court directed the board to submit its report by May 8, and scheduled a hearing on May 18.

It further directed courts, commissions or authorities to not take cognisance of any order passed by Justice Karnan after February 8, 2017.

The Bench, also comprising Justices Dipak Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph, disagreed with senior advocate K.K. Venugopal’s advice that since Justice Karnan was retiring in June, the contempt hearing should be deferred.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Now, Karnan ‘bans’ travel of SC judges

Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court.

Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan on Friday deferred the hearing of his case against seven Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice of India J.S. Kehar, who had issued a contempt order against him.

Justice Karnan also directed the Air Control Authority, New Delhi, “not to permit the said accused” to travel abroad till the case is disposed of, since their “offence” involves caste discrimination.

Summons to ‘accused’

Earlier this month, he had directed the judges to appear before him on Friday. “Today the above mentioned accused 1 to 8 are called absent hence their matter is re-posted to 01. 05. 2017 [Monday] to enable their reappearance. In the meantime, this court directs the Air Control Authority [referring to the Airports Authority of India] New Delhi, not to permit the said accused 1 to 8 from going abroad until the disposal of this crucial issue, since the nature of the offence, that is caste discrimination, is not only a heinous crime but also a very cruel Atrocious Act of heinous crime, and is punishable as per the Constitution,” Justice Karnan stated in the order. He included an eighth judge in his new order.

Elaborating on the reason for not allowing the judges to travel abroad, Justice Karnan said if “the accused are permitted to travel abroad, there is the probability of the virus of caste discrimination spreading in the said country by such perpetrators.”

In February, the Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice against Justice Karnan for allegedly degrading the judicial institution.

A seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Khehar heard Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, who said that Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.

Justice Karnan had written to the Prime Minister and allegedly accused several retired and sitting judges of corruption.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan's outrageous defiance

Justice C.S. Karnan’s continuance as a judge makes a mockery of the rule of law

He has brought the judiciary into disrepute, flouted all norms of judicial conduct and thrown an open challenge to the Supreme Court. His continuance as a judge makes a mockery of democracy and the rule of law. The case of Justice C.S. Karnan is no longer just strange or curious; it is disgraceful and intolerable. The Calcutta High Court judge’s ‘order’ summoning the Chief Justice of India and six judges of the Supreme Court to his ‘residential court’ to face punishment under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is yet another unacceptable affront to the apex court’s authority. Justice Karnan’s conduct goes against the assurance he gave the Chief Justice of India last year that he would foster a “harmonious attitude towards one and all”. At that time, he had expressed regret for passing a suo motu order staying his own transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court, admitting that it was an “erroneous order” passed due to “mental frustration, resulting in loss of mental balance”. The latest instance of his misconduct is in response to the contempt proceedings initiated against him by the Supreme Court for denigrating the judicial institution by making sweeping allegations, in a letter to the Prime Minister, against several judges. He had appeared in person before a seven-judge Bench on March 31, and was given four weeks to respond to the charge of contempt of court. It is quite apparent that he is only further damaging his own case.

The recalcitrant judge has a long history of alleging corruption among other judges, accusing some of caste discrimination against him, and often invoking his caste identity to take complaints against his peers and even Chief Justices to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. In the past, he has passed judicial orders on matters pertaining to the selection of judges, even after being barred by a Division Bench from hearing them. He had once barged into a court during a hearing, and on another occasion into the chamber of the Madras High Court Chief Justice, “hurling a volley of invectives”. Public criticism, transfer to another High Court, being hauled up for contempt and being denied judicial work — nothing seems to restrain him. The only option left is impeachment, but it is a political process involving Parliament and is something he himself may want so he can give full play to his alleged grievances, including those based on his caste. Justice Karnan’s case vividly exposes the inadequacies of the collegium system of appointments. Nothing makes a better case for the infusion of greater transparency in the selection of judges than his current presence in the High Court.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan directs SC judges to appear before him

C.S. Karnan

C.S. Karnan  

All 7 judges offenders under SC/ST Act: Calcutta HC judge

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan on Thursday passed an order directing seven judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, to appear before him on April 28 at 11.30 a.m. at his residence in Kolkata.

“On 28.04.2017 at 11.30 a.m. the honourable 7 judges as mentioned above will appear before me at my Rosedale Residential Court (residence) and give their views regarding quantum of punishment for the violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act….,” Justice Karnan said in his nine-page judgment, which was handed over to journalists.

In the order, the judge said that on March 31, he had pronounced a judgment “wherein the 7 judges are accused under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act.”

Justice Karnan repeatedly stated that all the 7 judges were offenders under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, citing instances of “insult to him” and “not allowing him to carry out his judicial and administrative work.” The order also said, “All the 7 judges should not be permitted to travel outside India.”

A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on February 8 issued suo motu contempt notice against Justice Karnan. He had appeared before the Supreme Court on March 31 and the court had given him four weeks to respond to the contempt notice.

The order issued by Justice Karnan on Thursday said, “The 7 judges as mentioned above are not permitted to move any court against this court’s order since the first accused, namely the CJI, who is controlling all courts in India. However, this court permits all the erring judges to approach Parliament in order to challenge my order (the court order) if they are not satisfied.”

Parliament intervention

Speaking to journalists during the day, Justice Karnan said he was in favour of Parliament intervention in the matter. “Parliament is the contempt authority. If a Supreme Court or a High Court judge commits any error, it has to be recommended by the Supreme Court to Parliament. Yes, I am seeking that option… I want to disclose so many these things before Parliament,” Justice Karnan said.

Letter to PM

On his letter to the Prime Minister on January 23 levelling corruption charges against certain judges, Justice Karnan said the complaint was pending inquiry.

“While the complaint is pending before the Prime Minister, how these seven judges have taken personal interest and issued suo motu contempt proceedings against me. The 20 judges are not coming forward and taking any legal action against me,” he said.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Karnan visits HC, doesn’t do administrative, judicial work

File photo of Justice C.S.Karnan.

File photo of Justice C.S.Karnan.   | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

Judge stays in his first floor chamber before returning to his residence

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan, who was earlier barred by the Supreme Court from performing any administrative or judicial work, came to the High Court on Monday.

“Justice Karnan did not perform any administrative or judicial work today [Monday],” his lawyer W. Peter Ramesh Kumar told The Hindu.

Meets Chief Justice

Justice Karnan, who arrived at the High Court around 11 a.m., mostly stayed in his first floor chamber near the court room before returning to his residence in eastern Kolkata in the afternoon. “He only met the Chief Justice,” said Mr. Kumar.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kumar warned that if anyone tried to stop Justice Karnan from entering the court, they would face legal action.

“Challenging the Supreme Court work ban, Justice Karnan is presiding in Calcutta High Court, court no. 3 today at 10.30 a.m. Any resistance will meet judicial pronouncements from Justice Karnan,” Mr. Kumar said in a message. However, he did not clarify why the judge did not enter the court on the day.

A Supreme Court order issued in February barred Justice Karnan “from handling any judicial or administrative work” in the office held by him. The court also issued a bailable warrant in a contempt of court order against Justice Karnan which he refused to accept last month.

Earlier, a seven judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar heard Attorney-General Mukul Rohtagi, who alleged that Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges. Justice Karnan had written to the Prime Minister allegedly accusing several retired and sitting Supreme Court and High Court judges of corruption.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Arrest me, imprison me, Karnan dares SC

Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan addresses a press conference outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Friday.

Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan addresses a press conference outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Friday.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

Justice Karnan accuses the Supreme Court of robbing him of dignity.

In an openly confrontational hearing, controversial Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan on Friday challenged a seven judge Bench of the Supreme Court to “arrest and put him in jail” for contempt.

Countering an order of the Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar to file an affidavit explaining his disparaging remarks and allegations of corruption against fellow High Courts and Supreme Court judges, Justice Karnan accused the Bench of robbing him of his mental and physical balance and his dignity by stripping him of his judicial and administrative powers as a High Court judge.

Justice Karnan was appearing for the first time before the Bench in the contempt action against him. He had refused to appear before it despite repeated notice from the apex court summoning him. Finally, the court had to issue a bailable warrant against him, which was served on him by a police team led by the West Bengal Director General of Police.

Justice Karnan, appearing for himself in a packed courtroom, shouted at the Bench that he will not come before it again.

“Had I not come today, you would have issued non-bailable warrant against me... What way am I an offender or an anti-social element or a terrorist for you... you should protect my dignity, my personal life has been destroyed, police entered my colony and people are watching me,” Justice Karnan submitted.

“We issued bailable warrants against you Mr. Karnan not because you were an accused but because you did not enter procedure. You are not a terrorist,” Chief Justice Khehar responded.

When the court gave Justice Karnan the choice between rendering an unconditional apology for his scurrilous letters and accusations against the judiciary, Justice Karnan rebutted saying they should first restore his powers as a judge in order for him to be in a position to prove his allegations.

The allegations of Justice Karnan had prompted the contempt action — the first in the court's history against a sitting High Court judge.

Finally, after a 45-minute hearing, Chief Justice Khehar recorded that Justice Karnan was replying neither coherently nor affirmatively about the accusations he had made, thus giving him an option to pen them down in an affidavit to be filed in the next four weeks.

The court refused his plea to restore his judicial and administrative duties.

“I have lost my physical and mental balance... If you do not restore my work, you can very well now impose any punishment you want,” Justice Karnan said.

“If you feel you are not mentally fit to respond to us in an affidavit, you give us a medical certificate,” Chief Justice Khehar replied.

“Medical certificate is not required. You have disturbed me like anything,” Justice Karnan told the Bench.

The hearing started with Justice Karnan explaining that his “fight is not against judiciary or for personal gains”.

“My fight is against corruption,” Justice Karnan submitted, handing over a letter concerning allegations against 20 judges to the Bench.

“You think about what you want to say. If you want legal help, I suggest you take legal advice. You should be properly prepared,” Justice Jasti Chelameswar asked.

“If you unconditionally apologise, this matter will take a different course. If you choose to accuse 'a' or 'y', the matter will be adjudicated,” Justice Dipak Misra observed.

The Bench also comprised Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph.

When the Chief Justice asked Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi whether Justice Karnan was in a position to comprehend his predicament, he said there was no question of “non-comprehension” here.

“This gentleman has appeared before My Lords and affirmed and again affirmed that he will continue to make insinuations till the judicial institution is damned. He says ‘I will render unconditional apology if I have committed contempt’. Apology for contempt cannot be conditional,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

Meanwhile, in a separate petition filed by Madras HC, Justice Karnan said he has returned his official bungalow.

The next hearing is on May 1, 2017.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Respond to contempt notice in four weeks, SC tells Justice Karnan

Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan addresses the press outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Friday.

Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan addresses the press outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi on Friday.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

''Arrest me and punish me if you want. Restore my job," Justice Karnan shouts at the seven judge Bench

The Supreme Court on Friday gave Calcutta High Court Judge C.S. Karnan four weeks time to file an affidavit on the contempt notice against him. It said he should make up his mind on whether to apologise or stand legal action against contempt. It also refused to restore his administrative and judicial work.

Justice Karnan offered an unconditional apology provided his judicial, administrative powers are restored. "Arrest me and punish me if you want. Restore my job," Justice Karnan shouted at the seven-judge Bench as they rose.

Justice Karnan said if his job is restored, he would prove all his allegations of corruption and casteism against fellow judges. He would not appear before the court on next date of hearing without his powers being restored.

Earlier, the Bench, comprising the seniormost judges of the court, issued a bailable warrant against him to secure his presence in the Supreme Court on March 31 in a suo motu contempt case against him for denigrating the judicial institution.

On March 10, Justice Karnan threatened to prosecute the seven senior judges. At a press conference in Kolkata, he said he was targeted by the Supreme Court for “being someone from a Scheduled Caste community.”

He had “refused” to accept the bailable warrant issued against him by the Supreme Court. On March 17, a team of police officials led by Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purkayastha went to Justice Karnan’s residence in the New Town area on the Eastern fringes of the city to hand over the warrant.

 

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan rejects warrant issued by Supreme Court

Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court.

Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court.   | Photo Credit: PTI

In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court had issued the arrest warrant against Justice Karnan to ensure his presence before it on March 31 in a contempt case.

Calcutta High Court judge C.S. Karnan has “refused” to accept the bailable warrant issued against him by the Supreme Court in a suo motu contempt of court order. On Friday, a team of police officials led by the State’s Director General of Police (DGP) Surajit Kar Purkayastha went to Justice Karnan’s residence in the New Town area on the Eastern fringes of the city to hand over the warrant.

“But he refused to accept it,” said W. Peter Ramesh, the lawyer of the judge. Last week, Supreme Court issued a bailable warrant against him in a suo motu contempt of court case for denigrating the judicial institution. The Supreme Court also directed the West Bengal’s Director General of Police to serve the warrant to Justice Karnan.

 

“The DGP of West Bengal Police, ADGP of Intelligence-Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and an Superintendent of Police [SP] from Tamilnadu along with more than 20 police personnel came to Justice Karnan's residence today (Friday) to hand him over the warrant. But he refused to accept it,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu.

However, Additional Director General of CID Rajesh Kumar told The Hindu that Justice Karnan has “accepted” the warrant. “He gave his observation on the bailable warrant and accepted it,” Mr. Kumar said.

A seven judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar heard Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi who said that Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges. He had written to the Prime Minister and accused several retired and sitting Supreme Court and High Court judges of corruption.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan threatens to prosecute SC judges

Justice C.S. Karnan

Justice C.S. Karnan  

Alleges that he was targeted by the apex court for “being someone from a Scheduled Caste community.''

Judge of the Calcutta High Court C.S. Karnan on Friday threatened to prosecute seven senior Judges of the Supreme Court who had issued a contempt notice against him.

At a press conference in Kolkata, he said he was targeted by the Supreme Court for “being someone from a Scheduled Caste [SC] community.”

“The way they [Supreme Court] has issued notices against me and summoned me it is unprecedented and the [Supreme] Court has no right to do act the way it did. This is because I am from the SC community,” he said.

The 62-year-old Judge wrote a letter earlier to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others alleging corruption among judges and in the judiciary. He has been pursuing his allegation for close to a decade.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Supreme Court issues bailable warrants against Justice Karnan

Justice C.S. Karnan

Justice C.S. Karnan  

To secure his presence in the court on March 31 in a suo motu contempt case for denigrating the judicial institution.

A seven-judge Bench, comprising the seniormost judges of the Supreme Court, issued a bailable warrant against sitting Calcutta HC judge C.S. Karnan to secure his presence in the Supreme Court on March 31 in a suo motu contempt case against him for denigrating the judicial institution.

The Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, on Friday directed the Director General of Police, West Bengal, to personally serve the warrant on Justice Karnan. Justices Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph are the others on the Bench.

Later, addressing a press conference at his residence in Kolkata, Justice Karnan said that “it is [the Supreme Court’s order] a motivated, ridiculous and illegal order.” He urged the President to “recall the bailable warrant” and directed Secretaries-General of both Houses of Parliament to place the facts before the Speaker for a thorough probe.

‘Targeted for being SC’

He alleged that he was being targeted by the Supreme Court because he belongs to a Scheduled Caste community. Justice Karnan also directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to initiate a probe against the seven Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice Khehar.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Justice Karnan had allegedly accused several sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges of corruption.

Chief Justice Khehar informed Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi that Justice Karnan had sent a fax message to the Supreme Court Registry on March 8, seeking a meeting with the CJI and other Supreme Court judges.

In its order issuing the warrant, the Bench said this fax message did not qualify as a response to the contempt notice issued to him.

The Bench said that despite almost a month being given to him, Justice Karnan did not deem it necessary to enter appearance personally or through a counsel before the Supreme Court in response to the contempt notice.

“The letter dated March 8, 2017, cannot be treated as a response by Justice C.S. Karnan. In view of the above position in the matter, we seek the presence of Justice C.S. Karnan by issuing bailable warrant with the sum of ₹10,000 in the nature of a personal bond to the satisfaction of the arresting officer,” the Bench ordered.

During the hearing in the Supreme Court, Mr. Rohatgi submitted that there are reports that an order has been passed by Justice Karnan admitting a petition filed by a lawyer in the Calcutta HC seeking enquiry into the allegations in the suicide note of former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Kalikho Pul.

The August 2016 note of Pul had made corruption allegations against sitting Supreme Court and HC judges.

In the said order, Mr. Rohatgi submitted that Justice Karnan had agreed with the petitioner-lawyer that the seven-judge Bench’s decision to strip him of judicial and administrative powers in the light of the contempt proceedings was void.

Mr. Rohatgi submitted that he had enquired with the Registrar of the Calcutta HC, who though confirming reports about the existence of such an order nevertheless denied seeing it.

The AG said the order in question remains unsigned.

Chief Justice Khehar at one point dismissed such reports of an order by Justice Karnan as a “prank.”

In the last hearing on February 13, the Supreme Court had briefly toyed with the option of issuing a bailable warrant against Justice Karnan, but chose to wait for another three weeks for the judge to explain his defiance of a judicial direction to be present in court.

The seven-judge Bench said that Justice Karnan had not indicated a reason for his non-appearance in a letter he wrote to the Registrar General of the Supreme Court on February 10 after contempt notice was issued against him on February 8. Nor did the judge deem it necessary to file any application in the criminal contempt case against him.

Last month the Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice against Justice Karnan for allegedly degrading the judicial institution.

Supreme Court issues bailable warrants against Justice Karnan
 

‘Scurrilous letters’

A seven-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice Khehar heard Mr. Rohatgi who said that Justice Karnan should face contempt proceedings for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.

Challenging the contempt notice Justice Karnan alleged that the notice was issued against him because he belongs to the SC community. In the “writ order” issued by him he argued that no contempt proceedings can be initiated against a sitting High Court judge.

Justice Karnan argued, “no contempt either civil or criminal can be initiated against a sitting High Court Judge under Sections 2 (c), 12 and 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act or under Article 20 of the Constitution of India.”

As for the Supreme Court asking him to appear before it on March 31, he hinted that he will not appear before it as he had not done anything illegal.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan fails to show up in SC

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.  

Justice Misra said there are two options available, “one, give him another opportunity to come and explain himself. Two, issue bailable warrant against him”.

After briefly toying with options like issuing a bailable warrant, the Supreme Court on Monday decided to wait another three weeks for sitting Calcutta High Court judge, C.S. Karnan, to explain his defiance of a judicial direction to be present in court.

Justice Karnan had been asked to be present in court on Monday.

A seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar said Justice Karnan had not indicated any reason for his non-appearance in a letter he wrote to the Registrar General of the Supreme Court on February 10, after a contempt notice was issued against him on February 8.

The Bench also comprised Justices Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P. C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph.

C.S. Karnan

C.S. Karnan  

 

Frame charge: A-G

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi advised the Bench to formally frame criminal contempt charge against Justice Karnan. Referring to Justice Karnan’s February 10 letter, which stated that the contempt proceedings violated the principles of natural justice and made disparaging remarks about the judiciary, Mr. Rohatgi said show cause notice should now be issued on the specific charge that it was “calculated to lower the dignity of the judicial institution.”

To this, Justice Misra said there were two options available: “One, give him another opportunity to come and explain himself. Two, issue bailable warrant against him.”

But Chief Justice Khehar sought to tread with caution. “For the time being, we will defer the proceedings. Consequences are great. We will ask him some questions and let him respond to these questions. Then we will proceed.”

In his submission, Mr. Rohatgi said the February 10 letter “aggravated” the position in the case. “The letter is on WhatsApp. It is with the media. It is written on his letterhead. Rantings like this of a senior judge does not behold the institution... public confidence requires the court to act against its own. We are sorry that this has come to such a pass,” he said.

“He has not said he will not appear,” Chief Justice Khehar responded. “He has said that he was not granted appropriate time. If it is a reasonable request, we will do so.”

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan: Contempt notice a violation of natural justice principles

The controversial Calcutta High Court judge writes to Supreme Court Registrar General

Controversial Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan, has written to the Registrar General of the Supreme Court, contending that the unprecedented suo motu contempt notice issued against him affects his fundamental rights of equality and dignity and a violation of the principles of natural justice.

Terming the order by a seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar as “unusual”, Justice Karnan said the matter should either be immediately referred to the Parliament or taken up after the retirement of Chief Justice Khehar.

He said the courts have no power to take contempt proceedings against a sitting High Court judge.

The judge said the order issuing contempt notice against a sitting High Court judge without even hearing him first is “erroneous” and shows “distinct ill-will” towards him.

He said that he had only acted in the past as a “responsible judge” against “high irregularities and illegalities occurring at the judicial courts”.

The signed letter contains his official letterhead as a judge of the Calcutta High Court and is dated February 9, 2017.

On February 8, the seven-judge Bench sent a strong message that it will not hesitate to act against one of its own for the sake of upholding justice.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi give his opinion that the Calcutta High Court judge should face contempt action for his “scurrilous” letters against sitting and retired High Court and Supreme Court judges.

The other judges on the Bench were Justices Dipak Misra, Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph.

The Bench ordered Justice to appear in person before it on February 13 to defend himself. It further directed the judge to forthwith refrain from undertaking any judicial or administrative work and return all his official files to the Calcutta High Court registry.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

In a first, SC issues contempt notice against HC Judge Karnan

A view of the Supreme Court of India.

A view of the Supreme Court of India.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Bench directs him to forthwith refrain from undertaking any judicial or administrative work and return all his official files to the Calcutta HC Registry.

A seven-judge Bench of the seniormost judges of the Supreme Court on Wednesay, in an unprecedented move, issued contempt of court notice against sitting Calcutta HC judge C.S. Karnan for impeding justice administration and bringing discredit to the judicial institution of the country by writing scurrilous letters about sitting and retired judges.

The Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, ordered Justice Karnan to appear in person before it on February 13 to show cause to the court why contempt proceedings should not be taken against him.

The Bench comprised Justices Dipak Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose and Kurian Joseph.

The Bench directed Justice Karnan to forthwith refrain from undertaking any judicial or administrative work and return all his official files to the Calcutta HC Registry.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before the Bench that the time has come for the highest judiciary to take cognisance of Justice Karnan's alleged misconduct and protect the judiciary.

Mr. Rohatgi said the Supreme Court as the apex judiciary is empowered under Articles 129 read with its extraordinary powers under Article 142 (2) to punish a member of the High Court and subordinate judiciary for contempt.

Chief Justice Khehar said the the Supreme Court has never done this before and has to take every care before punishing a sitting judge. "We have to hear him and we have to hear everyone. I have received several letters from him. I know his signature. But we still want to hear him... if he denies that he had written these letters... We have to be as careful as we can," Chief Justice Khehar observed.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Passed erroneous order due to mental frustration: Karnan

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.  

Madras HC judge says he was disturbed as some fellow judges "ridiculed" him

Madras High Court judge Justice C.S. Karnan on Tuesday wrote to the Chief Justice of India, acknowledging that he passed an “erroneous order” due to his mental frustration resulting in “loss of mental balance”.

The letter, also addressed to Justices J.S. Khehar and Justice R. Banumathi said he had been disturbed since some fellow judges had “ridiculed” him. He did not, however, name these judges.

Justice Karnan, who has been recommended for transfer to the Calcutta High Court by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, had responded in an unprecedented fashion on February 15 by suo motu staying his transfer and asking the Chief Justice to explain the reason behind such a recommendation in a written statement.

On a plea by the Madras High Court, a Bench led by Justice Khehar had stayed all orders issued by Justice Karnan from February 12 — the date on which he received the transfer recommendation.

The Supreme Court had further authorised the Madras High Court Chief Justice to pull him out of judicial work till further notice. The series of events led to Justice Karnan's recent personal visit to the Supreme Court to meet Chief Justice Thakur.

“On February 15, 2016, I had sent an erroneous order due to my mental frustration resulting in loss of mental balance since I was disturbed through various incidents,” Justice Karnan wrote in this latest letter.

He gave the assurance that in future he would foster a “harmonious attitude to one and all”.

In his letter, Justice Karnan gave two instances of “ridicule” he had suffered at the hands of some judges, mentioning that he had complained to the Chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other high dignitaries three years ago.

He said he had never revealed the names of the judges who “indulged in such ugly pranks.” He wanted to uphold the “sanctity of the judiciary and maintain communal harmony”.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Judicial hierarchy comes under strain as Madras HC judge ‘stays’ his transfer

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.  

The judicial hierarchy came under strain on Monday when Justice C. S. Karnan of the Madras High Court ‘stayed’ the Chief Justice of India’s proposal to transfer him to the Calcutta High Court, forcing the Supreme Court to authorise a freeze on his functions as a judge.

In an unprecedented development which threatened institutional esteem, a Bench of Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice R. Banumathi was informed by the Madras High Court that its sitting judge, Justice Karnan, has passed a “ suo motu judicial order” ‘staying’ the Chief Justice of India’s recommendation to transfer him.

Justice Karnan’s “order”, dated February 15 and a copy of which is with The Hindu, directly addressed the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

Addressing journalists, Justice Karnan claimed he was being targeted because he was a Dalit. “I will direct the Chennai Commissioner of Police to register cases against the two apex court judges under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act),” he said. Justice Karnan said he was ashamed of being born in India and would not hesitate to move to a country where caste discrimination does not exist.

Don’t interfere in my jurisdiction, judge tells CJI

Justice C.S. Karnan of the Madras High Court, who ‘stayed’ the Chief Justice of India’s proposal to transfer him to Kolkata, sent copies of his letter to the President, the Prime Minister, Union Law Minister, Minister for Consumer Affairs Ramvilas Paswan, former U.P. chief minister Mayawati, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Chairperson and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.



In the letter, he acknowledges receipt of the transfer proposal on February 12, but says he is unable to comprehend why the CJI wants him transferred. He proceeds to ask the CJI to file, through his subordinates, a “written statement” by April 29, 2016 to explain himself.



The High Court judge then stayed any move to transfer him to Kolkata, asking the CJI not to “interfere in my jurisdiction, as I am in the process of finalising an order on merits.”



He even suggests to Chief Justice Thakur to look up the Second Judges case law of 1993 delivered by a nine-judge Constitution Bench. The 1993 case law had said that judges should be transferred “only in ‘public interest’ i.e. for promoting better administration of justice throughout the country.”



Acting on the urgent plea by the Madras High Court Registrar-General to restrain Justice Karnan from passing any suo motu orders, the apex court Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi stayed all administrative or judicial orders passed by Justice Karnan post February 12 – the date of his transfer recommendation.



The Supreme Court then left it to Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul to decide whether or not to assign future work to Justice Karnan.



“It will be open to the Chief Justice of the High Court not to assign any further administrative/judicial work to him.” This would imply, that no other orders shall be passed by Mr. Justice C.S. Karnan, suo motu or otherwise, in any matter not specially assigned to him.



Justice Khehar, who is a member of the Supreme Court Collegium which met on February 11 to decide on large-scale transfers of High Court judges including Justice Karnan’s, said it is left to the High Court judge to state his case against the transfer before the apex court, if he wants to.



“It shall be open to the Hon’ble Judge [Justice Karnan] to enter appearance before this Court, in case he is so advised [in respect of the instant/pending matter],” Justice Khehar dictated the order for the Bench.



On February 12, the Madras High Court registry authorities had made an urgent plea to the Supreme Court to intervene following an earlier letter shot off by Justice Karnan, accusing Chief Justice Kaul of caste discrimination.



Justice Khehar, however, said this issue would be taken up in due course as it is not “immediate.”



In Chennai, Justice Karnan made serious allegations against the Chief Justice and other judges.



“I am in no way subordinate to the Supreme Court. Mine is a separate constitutional office. How can the apex court interfere in my office that too without even hearing my version?” he asked.



Claiming that he has been targeted only because he is a Dalit, Justice Karnan said, “Let the two judges come to Parliament. The issue can be decided there. It is the competent authority.”

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Justice Karnan’s judicial journey

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.

Madras High Court judge C. S. Karnan.  

Justice C.S. Karnan of the Madras High Court has been in the news ever since he was appointed judge on March 30, 2009. He has often gone public with his complaints about the judiciary.

He first hit the national headlines in November 2011 when his complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), alleging that he was being harassed and victimised by brother judges because he was a Dalit, became public.

In his complaint, he alleged that there was an attempt to reduce his role to one of subjugation. Justice Karnan even charged that at a marriage function, a brother judge “crossed his leg deliberately touching mine.”

NCSC Chairman P.L. Punia forwarded the complaint to then Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia as the latter was “the ultimate authority in the judiciary.”

Unprecedented act

Two years later, in January 2014, in an unprecedented act, Justice Karnan entered a court hall where a Division Bench was hearing a public interest litigation petition relating to names recommended for the post of judges and declared that the “selection [of names] is not fair” and that he would file an affidavit on the issue.

The Supreme Court in March 2014 condemned Justice Karnan’s behaviour observing: “The sudden unfamiliar incident made us fume inwardly on this raw unconventional protest that was unexpected, uncharitable and ungenerous and, to say the least, it was indecorous.”

In fact the then Madras High Court Chief Justice R.K. Agarwal wrote to the then Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam urging him to transfer Justice Karnan to some other court.

Justice Agarwal alleged that when a lawyers’ boycott was under way, “Justice Karnan barged into my chambers hurling a volley of invectives … seeking a change in portfolio … In fact, some of my brother judges are afraid of him. The conduct of Justice Karnan, as the present incident shows, is not only unbecoming of a judge but also tends to undermine the dignity of the Chief Justice and brings a bad name to the institution.”

Justice Karnan countered this by complaining to the NCSC about Chief Justice Agarwal accusing him of displaying “a form of discrimination without any reason.” Sensing that he could be transferred, he also wrote to the Chief Justice of India and Justice Agarwal saying “I should not be transferred till I establish the veracity of my allegations [against the judges].”

In mid-2015, he accused a sitting judge of the High Court of sexually assaulting an intern in his chambers, a charge he repeated on Monday.

Likewise, he suo motu stayed an administrative order of then Madras High Court Chief Justice S.K. Kaul regarding selection of civil judges and said he would direct the NCSC to initiate proceedings against him under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Finally the apex court intervened and stayed his interim order for undermining the authority of the Chief Justice.

Justice Karnan had also dubbed “autocratic” the collegium system of selecting judges.

In November 2015, he went on long leave, dissatisfied over the allocation of “insignificant or dummy” portfolios to him. The proverbial last straw for him came this month when the Madras High Court Registry sought the Supreme Court’s intervention after Justice Karnan accused the sitting Chief Justice of caste discrimination.

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Stop allotting work to Justice Karnan, SC tells Madras High Court

Supreme Court bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi restrained Justice Karnan from passing any suo motu orders.

Supreme Court bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi restrained Justice Karnan from passing any suo motu orders.  

Justice C.S. Karnan, has allegedly threatened to stay suo motu the Chief Justice of India's letter transferring him to Calcutta High Court.

In an unprecedented development in the Indian judiciary and a blow to institutional esteem, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Madras High Court Chief Justice to stop allotting judicial work to sitting Madras High Court judge, Justice C.S. Karnan.

Even as this order was being passed by a bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi, Justice C.S Karnan took suo motu cognisance of the >Chief Justice of India's letter dated February 12 transferring him to Calcutta High Court.

Stays his own transfer order

Justice Karnan stayed his own transfer and directed the Chief Justice of India to file a written statement through his subordinates explaining the reason for transferring him by February 29, 2016.

In an urgent post lunch mentioning, the Madras High Court Registrar General apprised Justice Khehar's bench about the latest development.

"We will tweak our earlier order to cover this also," Justice Khehar assured.

A bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi had earlier in the day restrained Justice Karnan from passing any suo motu orders. And even if he does, the apex court had said, such suo motu orders would have no effect in a bid to literally isolate the judge.

Speaking for the Bench in its order, Justice Khehar was informed by senior advocate KK Venugopal, for the Registrar General, that Justice Karnan has received his transfer order dated February 12.

"On account of the fact that Justice C.S. Karnan had received his transfer order, we consider it just and appropriate to allow the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court not to allow any further judicial work to him," Justice Khehar had observed in the written order.

The Bench said the order should be circulated to Justice Karnan for his perusal and if he is so advised he can make an appearance in the apex court "at his own cost".

Registry authorities had made an urgent plea on Friday to the Supreme Court to intervene following a letter shot off by its sitting judge, >Justice C.S. Karnan, accusing Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul of caste discrimination >.

Justice Khehar however said this issue would be taken up in due course as it is not "immediate".

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Justice Karnan vs Supreme Court: saga of a defiant judge

Collegium recommends transfer of High Court judges

The Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur has recommended the transfer of High Court judges across the country.

Judges from various High Courts, including Madras, Karnataka, Allahabad, and Delhi, were recommended for transfer to other High Courts at a collegium meeting held on February 11, sources said.

Among the judges, Justices R. Sudhakar and C.S. Karnan have been recommended for transfer to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and the Calcutta High Court, respectively. Justice Sudhakar is sought for transfer for administrative reasons.

CJI Thakur had on Friday, without elaborating, told senior advocate K.K. Venugopal appearing for the Madras High Court’s Registrar-General that a decision has been taken about Justice Karnan. The Chief Justice Bench is scheduled to hear a plea by the High Court’s Registry on a letter by Justice Karnan accusing High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul of caste discrimination.

The Ministry of Law and Justice will now process the current collegium recommendations.

Following the logjam created by the litigation on the National Judicial Appointments Commission laws, the judiciary is, at this point of time, battling rising vacancies in High Courts which have touched over 400.

It is learnt that the Chief Justice of India has written to High Court Chief Justices to suggest names of persons suitable for appointing to the High Court Benches. CJI Thakur had said that filling up the 400 judicial vacancies in High Courts would be a “big challenge” in 2016.

He had however said he was in favour of striking a balance between regional representation and merit while appointing judges.

In the Supreme Court, with the retirement of Justice M.Y. Eqbal on February 12, the number of vacancies has gone up to six.

This year would see a possible crisis in numbers with five more Supreme Court judges retiring — Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla in July, Justices V. Gopala Gowda and C. Nagappan in October and Justices Anil R. Dave and Shiva Kirti Singh in November.

CJI Thakur himself would be retiring in January 2017. He will be followed by Justice J.S. Khehar (the Chief Justice of India-in-line as per the seniority norm) in August 2017, Justices P.C. Ghose and Prafulla C. Pant.

The collegium’s steps show urgency as the Union Law Ministry is still in the process of collecting feedback from the State governments and High Court Chief Justices for the preparation of a new Memorandum of Procedure for transfer and appointment of judges.

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