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Justice C.S. Karnan Becomes First HC Judge To Retire While Absconding

Apoorva Mandhani
12 Jun 2017 11:39 AM GMT
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Calcutta High Court Judge, Justice Karnan, who has been evading arrest since May 9, retired on Monday, becoming the first High Court Judge to have retired while still absconding.

Born on June 12, 1955, Justice Karnan was appointed as a Madras High Court Judge in 2009. According to reports, however, he will be denied a formal farewell ceremony as he faces an arrest based on the Supreme Court’s order.

Justice Karnan had recently challenged the constitutional validity of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, as well as placed an application of recall of the orders against him. The Petition was, however, declared as non-maintainable by the Supreme Court Registry.

This was in aftermath of an order passed on May 9, wherein the 7 Judge SC Bench had sentenced him to 6 months in jail after finding him guilty of contempt of Court. “On merits, we are of the considered view, that Sri Justice C.S. Karnan, has committed contempt of the judiciary. His actions constitute contempt of this Court, and of the judiciary of the gravest nature. Having found him guilty of committing contempt, we convict him accordingly. We are satisfied to punish him by sentencing him to imprisonment for six months. As a consequence, the contemnor shall not perform any administrative or judicial functions,” the 7 judge bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar had then observed.

The Court had also refused to accept Advocate K.K. Venugopal’s suggestion that the Court should wait for Justice Karnan to retire, with the CJI thundering: “in contempt we do not distinguish… there is no color…sitting or non-sitting… if he thought we will not punish him as he is sitting, he is wrong.”

Justice Karnan had also refused to be examined by a four-member team of psychiatrists who arrived at his residence to execute the Supreme Court order. The order for Justice Karnan’s check-up was passed after the bench was particularly miffed over two recent “judicial orders” passed by Justice Karnan (when he was restrained from issuing judicial or administrative orders), summoning the Judges of seven Judge Bench, and directing the Air Control Authority to not allow the seven SC Judges to travel abroad.

He had further passed a bizarre order convicting Chief Justice of India Justice Khehar and other six Supreme Court Judges for various offences under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, sentencing them to 5 years imprisonment and fine. The Bench had then found that he was not in a position to defend himself now, and had directed the DGP, West Bengal to constitute a team of police personnel to get the examination conducted.

You may read: A Peep into Justice Karnan’s Contempt Saga – Part-I, Part-II and Part-III by Namit Saxena

You may also read: Justice Karnan – A Constitutional Conundrum by S. Sanal Kumar

The build up to his transfer

Not a man unknown to controversies, Justice Karnan had made headlines when he had alleged that he was left out of the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy as he was from the scheduled caste. He had claimed that all participants were from the upper caste and that his name was removed in order to make way for a Junior Judge who belonged to the upper caste.

He had then gone ahead and passed another order  in May, 2015, requesting the Chief Justice to extend co-operation “without any interference with my Court’s proceedings and its Judicial Power in order to maintain the decorum of the Court and avoid an unhealthy practice of Judiciary in the interest of the general public. He also requested the Chief to avoid ego and stop acting in an autocratic manner to protect democracy.”

The controversy had taken root with Chief Justice Sanjay Kaul constituting the recruitment committee comprising of Justices V. Dhanapalan, R. Sudhakar, D. Hariparanthaman, N. Kirubakaran and R. Mala to interview candidates for selection as Civil Judges. The Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission chairman and other officers were to be part of the selection committee, which was scheduled to start oral interview of candidates from April 15 till April 21.

On April 16, 2015, Justice Karnan had initiated suo motu proceedings, and had passed a judicial order questioning Justice Dhanapalan’s inclusion in the committee. He had alleged that latter had produced “bogus educational qualifications” about his bachelor and masters degree in law, and therefore had no locus standi to conduct the interview. He had even directed the CBI to inquire into his educational qualifications.

He had also alleged that inclusion of Justices Sudhakar and Hariparanthaman, who hailed from the same community besides being relatives, would send a wrong signal about the fairness of selection. He went on to stay the CJ’s administrative order, and had restrained the public service commission chairman from conducting the interview of candidates for civil judge posts.

“In order to control the mal-administration of My Lord Chief Justice, I am passing this suo-motu judicial order in the interest of justice invoking Article 226 of the Constitution to restore the confidence in the Madras high court and confidence with the general public,” he had said. Justice Karnan had further ordered that two Judges must be from minority communities, one from Muslim community and another from Christian community, to give a fair representation to all communities in the recruitment committee.

On April 17, 2015, Justice Karnan’s suo motu order was placed before a division bench of Justices S. Tamilvanan and C.T. Selvam, which had stayed the April 16 order.

Despite the division bench order, Justice Karnan had directed the Registry to place the matter before him on judicial side on April 30. On that day, he had reiterated his earlier order and threatened the Chief Justice with contempt of court proceedings.

The Madras High Court registry had then moved the Supreme Court seeking stay of the order passed by Justice Karnan. The Supreme Court had willingly obliged and had stayed the order passed by him.

In January, 2014 as well, Justice Karnan had made an attempt to stall his probable transfer to another High Court in a letter addressed to the then Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam and the then Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Justice R.K. Agrawal. He had claimed that maintaining his presence in Madras High Court was important, as he obliged to prove his allegations against the Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the High Court. You may read the LiveLaw story here.

Justice Karnan has been notorious for making serious allegations against his other fellow Judges as well. In May last year, he had alleged that a Judge of the Madras High Court had assaulted an intern within the High Court premises. “I have preferred several representations to your Lordship regarding the conduction of enquiry on the custodial rape committed by Mr. Justice XXXXXX (name withheld) on the law intern Miss XXXXX (name withheld) at the Madras High Court,” he had written to the Chief Justice of the High Court. You may read the LiveLaw article here.

In another letter written to the Chief Justice of India, he had criticized the collegium system. The Collegium system, according to Justice Karnan, “acted on its own views or whims and fancies to say the least” which “disturbs” both his mind and “Judicial work”. In the letter, he had praised the government’s move to constitute the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) and said that is “most appropriate for the functioning of the judiciary in an unfettered manner and to render justice.” You may read the LiveLaw article here.

The CJI had then been transferred the Judge to Calcutta High Court by an order which was later stayed by him. Around the same time, the Apex Court had directed Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul to not allow Justice Karnan to deal with any more judicial work.

You may read: ‘Free Speech’ Dimension Of Justice Karnan Gag Order by Thulasi K. Raj

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