Re-examine collegium system: SC judge

Justice (Retd.)C.S. Karnan (in picture) episode highlights the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts.  

The staggering embarrassment caused by Justice C.S. Karnan, who is serving six months’ imprisonment for scandalising the Indian judiciary with his antics while serving as a High Court judge, has triggered a strong pitch within the Supreme Court itself to reconsider the efficacy of the age-old and recently revived collegium system of judicial appointments.

‘Not the only instance’

In a separate judgment, Justice J. Chelameswar, the sole judge who had dissented on quashing of the NDA government’s National Judicial Appointments Commission laws which had unsuccessfully tried to dispense with the opaque collegium system of judges appointing judges to the Supreme Court and High Courts, said Justice Karnan’s appointment as a judge was a classic example of how the system has failed.

Justice Chelameswar reveals in the judgment that Justice Karnan’s episode is not a singular one – “there have been there are various other instances (mercifully which are less known to the public) of conduct of some of the members of the judiciary which certainly would cause some embarrassment to the system.”

“What appropriate mechanism would be suitable for assessing the personality of the candidate who is being considered for appointment to be a member of a constitutional court is a matter which is to be identified after an appropriate debate by all the concerned — the Bar, the Bench, the State and civil society. But the need appears to be unquestionable,” Justice Chelameswar wrote.

Justice Chelameswar, who had historically refused to participate in the hush-hush meetings of the Supreme Court collegium and spoke up for transparency and recording of the minutes of the collegium meetings, is joined in the separate judgment by another SC collegium member, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is in line to be Chief Justice of India.


They were both part of the seven-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar who heard the suo motu contempt case against Justice Karnan and unanimously found him guilty on May 9, 2017.

Justice Chelameswar said the case of Justice Karnan, who suffers the ignominy of being the first serving judge in Indian history to be found guilty of “gravest and grossest” criminal contempt, highlighted the “need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts, for that matter any member of the judiciary at all levels.”

Noting that Justice Karnan was appointed judge in the Madras HC on March 30, 2009, Justice Chelameswar wrote how “the conduct of the contemnor [Justice Karnan] ever since his elevation to the Bench has been controversial”.

The judgment said that impeachment alone is not the answer to correct deviant behaviour of judges in the Supreme Court and High Courts.

‘Made us a laughing stock’

Observing that Justice C.S. Karnan reduced the Indian judiciary into a “laughing stock”, a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday published a detailed and unanimous judgment explaining their reasons for taking the “unpleasant” and unprecedented step of sending the controversial High Court judge – one of their own – to jail for six months on May 9, 2017.

Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, who headed the Bench, made detailed references to the several “scandalous” letters written by Justice Karnan to the highest constitutional authorities across the spectrum and his “obnoxious allegations” against innumerable judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justices of the High Courts and other judges. The judgment even refers to the occasion when Justice Karnan sentenced all the seven judges on the Bench to five years’ imprisonment.


In a separate judgment, Justices J. Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi, also on the Bench, described Justice Karnan as a “judge who crossed even the most liberal standards of expected and permissible expression of opinion.” “His public utterances turned the judicial system into a laughing stock,” the judgment by the Bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, P.C. Ghose (now retired) and Kurian Joseph, observed.



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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 10:22:16 PM |

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