The Madras High Court on Tuesday refused to grant bail to CS Karnan, former High Court judge, in a case relating to uploading of abusive online videos.
A Single Bench of Justice V. Bharathidasan rejected Karnan's defence of mental instability and observed that the former Judge had made scathing remarks against Judicial institutions and the Judges with a predetermined mind, fully knowing the consequences of his actions.
"A perusal of the transcribed text of all those video contents would clearly show that the petitioner made such abusive utterances consciously and with predetermined mind. Whenever the objectionable act of the petitioner was condemned by the well reasoned persons, he used to react quickly and start abusing them in vulgar language," the Bench held.
An FIR was registered against Karnan on the complaint by Advocate Devika over his objectionable videos threatening sexual crimes against women relations of High Court and Supreme Court judges.
Subsequently, the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking action against the ex-judge.
On November 10, the High Court had ordered the blocking of the objectionable video links. Justices M Sathyanarayanan and R Hemalatha had observed therein:
"It is rather unfortunate to note that the ninth respondent (Karnan), who held an important constitutional post, has gone to such a level to repeatedly make scandalous, obscene, vituperative & unparliamentary remarks against former & sitting judges of SC & HC and their family members, especially women."
However, Karnan continued to upload objectionable abusive/ videos by changing accounts in various names, following which he was arrested and remanded to judicial custody on December 2, 2020.
In his bail application, Karnan told the Madras High Court that he has been "suffering from serious and severe depression after his retirement" and that is why "he has been doing certain act unknowingly in an unregrettable fashion."
The Single Judge noted that the defence of severe mental depression and incapacity to understand the nature of his act would not come to Karnan's aid because,
"the sequence of the videos and the contents would prima facie show that the petitioner had done all such acts deliberately knowing fully well that what he was doing was wrong and contrary to law."
In its order, the Single Judge noted that whenever the objectionable act of the petitioner was condemned by the well-reasoned persons, he used to react quickly and start abusing them in vulgar language.
In this context, he recorded the following chronology of events:
October 25 2020: First video was uploaded making vulgar allegations against Judges of th Supreme Court and the Madras High Court, their spouses and women court staff members.
Immediately, a complaint was made by a practicing lawyer.
Having come to know that, Karnan uploaded another video abusing the women lawyers including a woman senior counsel.
November 6, 2020: Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry made a compliant and also filed a writ petition before the High Court seeking a direction for the removal of the objectionable and hateful videos.
November 10, 2020: A Division Bench of the High Court passed an interim order directing the social media concerned to remove all those objectionable and hateful videos.
Immediately, on the very same day, Karnan uploaded another video abusing the Presiding Judge of the Division Bench and also questioning his authority to hear the writ petition.
Karnan also made abusing statement against the Co-Chairman of the Bar Council of India, who had argued the writ petition before the Division Bench.
November 13, 2020: Two more complaints were filed by the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and all such abusive videos were removed from the YouTube pursuant to the order passed by the court.
Following this, Karnan again started uploading abusive videos by changing accounts in various names.
November 11, 2020: Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry gave another complaint to the Police. Since no action was forthcoming, the Bar Council filed a petition under Section 482 of CrPC seeking direction to the Police to register the cases against Karnan.
Having found about the same, Karnan uploaded another video wherein also he vulgarly abused the High Court Judges and the Co-Chairman of the Bar Council of India.
In this backdrop, the Single Judge was of the opinion that,
"petitioner was and is not having any physical or mental ailments which rendered his intellect weak. The utterances made by him in the videos would prima facie indicate that all those statements were made in a clear state of mind and uploaded the same on social media platforms fully knowing the consequences of his action and also the nature of the act he was doing. Therefore, the petitioner cannot take umbrage neither under Section 84 of IPC nor under Section 330 of Cr.P.C."
That apart, the Court noted that when a search was conducted in Karnan's house, the Police seized certain documents containing abusive writings. On perusal of those documents, the Bench concluded,
"it could be seen that the petitioner himself prepared all those abusive statements for recording the videos in question, which would clearly show that the petitioner made a thorough preparation before video graphing such abusive statements."
Contents of the impugned videos scandalous & vulgar
The Single Judge expressed his shock at the scandalous, obscene, very vulgar and vituperative statements made by Karnan against sitting and former Judges of the Courts.
On a perusal of the transcribed text of the video contents, the Bench said,
"The petitioner had made scandalous, obscene, very vulgar and vituperative statements against few former Hon'ble Chief Justices, etc., batch and former and siting Honourable Judges of Supreme Court of India, former and sitting Honourable Judges of High Court Madras and two sitting Honourable Chief Justices of other High Courts as well as against the family members of some of the Honourable Judges, which cannot be expected even from a layman.
The petitioner did not even spare women lawyers and women court staff members and also targeted some of the senior counsels who had argued the contempt case against the petitioner before the Supreme Court. The petitioner had also made very obscene and vulgar statements against the spouses of the Honourable Judges for no sin on their part and this court is fully satisfied that the contents of the video prima facie make out offences for which the petitioner has been implicated."
In his bail application, Karnan had stated that he was doing certain acts unknowingly, and that he would render unconditional apology to those who were offended by the video contents uploaded by him.
However, the Court observed that Karnan is not serious to tender apology for the acts done by him. It noted,
"Even though the wife and the son of the petitioner have filed affidavit and tendered unconditional apology on behalf of the petitioner, the same cannot be accepted in the absence of any such affidavit from the petitioner, genuinely regretting for the acts done by him. The learned senior counsel for the petitioner also assertively stated that the petitioner is not willing to file any such affidavit tendering apology."
Coming to Karnan's antecedents, the Single Judge noted that his tirade started in the year 2015 and number of unsustainable orders were passed by him when he served as a High Court Judge.
He had also faced contempt proceedings for having made obnoxious allegations against the Chief Justice of India, some Judges of the Supreme Court and a number of Judges of the Madras High Court.
In 2017, the Supreme Court had found Karnan guilty of contempt and he was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for six months [vide In Re Justice C.S.Karnan 2017 (7) SCC 1]
Further, despite the Supreme Court's explicit direction that no further statements made by him should be published, Karnan continued to make abusive statements against Judges, their spouses, women lawyers and the women staff members of the Registry of Madras High Court.
Furthermore, even after the order of the Division Bench of the Madras High Court for the deletion of those abusive videos on the social media platforms, Karnan continued to upload such videos by creating new YouTube accounts.
In this backdrop, the Bench noted,
"This court is of the view that there is no guarantee that if the petitioner is released on bail, he would not indulge in similar acts in future.
… Considering the past conduct of the petitioner, this court has every reason to believe that there is likelihood of the petitioner repeating the offence in the event of releasing him on bail. On considering the past conduct of the petitioner, this court is unable to accept the undertaking given by the petitioner."
No post-Covid complications
In the bail plea, Karnan had said that he had been suffering from serious depression for some time, which aggravated after he underwent treatment for COVID19, causing him to act in an "improper manner". During the hearing, Karnan's wife and son stated that Karnan is suffering from age related ailments.
The Court however observed that Karnan had completely recovered from COVID19 infection and is comfortable and hale and healthy. "He is not suffering from any post COVID complications. The general health condition of the petitioner is also good… Except the oral submissions, no material has been placed before this court to show that the petitioner is suffering from post COVID19 complications or any other serious ailments.," the Single Judge said while declining the bail plea.
petitioner admitted that he only uploaded the videos and further stated that due to long imprisonment undergone by him pursuant to the order passed by the Honourable Supreme Court and due to certain subsequent developments, he has been suffering from severe mental depression and his mind is not stable.
It is further stated by the petitioner that he had lost his younger brother in the month of November 2020 and by that incident also, he was seriously affected and he has been doing certain act unknowingly in an unregrettable fashion.
Likelihood of interfering with investigation
In his concluding remarks, the Single Judge said,
"The petitioner is none other than the former Judge of this court and High Court of Calcutta. He is also founder president of a political party and appears to be a very influential person. Considering the position held by the petitioner as a constitutional functionary and he being a very influential person, this court is of the view that if the petitioner is released on bail, at this stage, there is every possibility of the petitioner interfering with the investigation and tampering with the witnesses and influence the officials."
Case Title: CS Karnan v. State