In Re: Sri Justice C.S. Karnan
FACTS OF THE CASE
Contemnor Judge of the Madras High Court had a habit of bringing serious charges against his fellow judges. When he was moved to the Calcutta High Court in early 2017, his behaviour worsened. He used to condemn in open public, used to make baseless/unsubstantiated accusations, wrote highly disparaging letters to constitutional functionaries, and there were unlawful orders issued by a contemnor Judge against around 33 former and current Supreme Court and High Court judges (named). His mockery of the judiciary and the Supreme Court persisted. He ordered (a) the initiation of criminal cases, (b) the restriction of their travel abroad, and (c) the sentence of 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment against 7 Judges of the current Bench without following any process and despite the Supreme Court having revoked all of his powers. Following that, he made allegations about a link between Supreme Court judges and Madras High Court judges. His complaints were that he was being ragged and mocked in public places by his fellow Judges (he named specific Judges) and that he was being socially boycotted because of his caste. The contents of his letters to judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court contained scandalous information about them. The Contemnor Judge protected himself from action by boasting of his status as a member of an underprivileged caste. By taking the above position, he made accusations against a many of the Supreme Court justices, Chief Justices of High Courts, mainly against Madras High Court Judges, but still he was unable to substantiate even one claim.
CASE BRIEF In Re: Sri Justice C.S. Karnan
Whether Justice C.S. Karnan’s actions constitute contempt of Supreme Court, and of the judiciary of the grossest and gravest nature?
- Section 2(c) of Contempt of Court Act, 1971:
In this the term “criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which—
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
Justice C.S. Karnan used to publicly denounce, render baseless/unsubstantiated allegations, write highly disparaging letters to constitutional functionaries, and there were unlawful orders given against about 33 former and current Supreme Court and High Court judges (named by the contemner). For example, he also told the press that the Chief Justice of the High Court was the most corrupt judge. He also revealed that he had ordered the Chennai Commissioner of Police to file a complaint against two Supreme Court judges over a judicial order they had received. Hence, we can say that he was liable under section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act of 1971.
- Article 129 of the Constitution of India:
Supreme Court to be a court of record. —The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
This article gives the power to the Supreme Court to punish for cases regarding contempt of court.
- Article 215 of the Constitution of India:
High Courts to be courts of record. —Every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
This article gives the power to the High Court to punish for cases regarding contempt of court.
ANALYSIS OF THE CASE
The factual situation observed, as well as the submissions advanced by the counsel who represented the Court during the hearing, have been given careful consideration. From time to time, the Court has closely reviewed the text of the letters written by the contemnor Judge. In this situation, the contents of his letters to the judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court contained scandalous materials against them. There was no evidence to back up any of Justice Karnan’s claims. His accusations were false and defamatory, and he specifically named several of the judges in question. In the first place, he took his insinuation to the general public by carefully endorsing his letters in order to widely circulate the material of his correspondence to the desired circles. Some of his letters, such as those to the President of the Tamil Nadu Advocate Association, were purposefully endorsed. Later, he made his point of view, as well as the entire content, available to the public via the internet. This correspondence was sent to the highest constitutional authorities in the legislature, the courts, and the executive branch of government. Before he was given a notice of contempt by the Supreme Court, he passed orders that had adverse effects to the administration of justice in a Suo Motu procedure which was noticed and also examined by the supreme court. Even after the Supreme Court issued the contempt notice to him, the Court carefully examined the orders passed by the contemnor Judge Suo Motu (in the purported exercise of the jurisdiction vested in him under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, read with Section 482 of the Criminal procedure Code). Even after the repeated orders by the supreme court, he never came to attend the court proceedings. After the supreme court gave frequent orders, his demeanour was found to have been more hostile. Throughout the hearing on the current contempt motion, he continued to mock the Supreme Court. In reality, it was pushed to new heights. He also stayed orders issued by this Court during this process. He issued an order prohibiting the judges on this bench from leaving the country. He convicted the judges on this bench, as well as another judge on this Court, and sentenced them to five years in prison, as well as imposing individual costs on the convicted judges, through another decree. The inquiry was never permitted to proceed in the right direction by the contemnor. On the other hand, he decided to challenge the Supreme Court’s authority to bring contempt proceedings against him, not because his actions did not constitute contempt, but because no contempt proceedings could be brought against a judge of a high court. According to the contemnor, the only judicial action that can be taken against a high court judge is to impeach him and remove him from office as given in the constitution. His public pronouncements turned the legal system into a laughingstock.
As a result, he was likely to be convicted for his unsavoury acts and behaviour under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act of 1971. As a result, on 9th May, 2017, it was ordered by the Bench to sentence the convicted, six months in jail for his conduct. As a consequence, the convicted person was prohibited from performing any administrative or judicial functions thereafter.