The Supreme Court recently convicted Justice Karnan guilty of contempt and punished him for six-month imprisonment, maximum under the 1971 Act.
Laws: Articles 19(2), 129,142 of the Constitution, the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, and the Rules to regulate proceedings for contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975.
Course of events:
- Justice Karnan was appointed as a judge of Madras High Court in 2009 and is due to retire on 12.06.2017.
- Justice Karnan, in 2011, allegingly wrote to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) that he faced caste-based harassment from other judges at Madras High Court. Then NCSC chairman forwarded the letter to then Chief Justice Kapadia.
- In 2014, Justice Karnan at Madras High Court during a hearing before a special bench of a PIL on a matter relating to the appointment of certain judges voiced to the bench in an open court that the selection was unfair and that he wanted to file an affidavit in his name.
- The Supreme Court observed and noted in March 2014 that“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.” The then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Justice RK Agarwal wrote to then CJI Justice P Sathasivam and requested to transfer Justice Karnan to some other High Court.
- Justice Karnan then wrote to Justice Sathasivam and Justice Agarwal, stating his wish to stay in Madras High Court and fulfill his obligation to prove the allegations that he had raised against the chief justice and the other judge. He also sought details of the selection process so that he could file a complaint before the President of India.
- Meanwhile, 20 judges of Madras High Court jointly wrote to the CJI requesting Justice Karnan’s transfer. In 2015, Chief Justice of Madras High Court Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, constituted a committee to interview candidates for the recruitment of civil judges but Justice Karnan initiated a suo motu writ proceeding staying chief justice’s administrative order. He also ordered the CBI to look into another member judge’s educational qualifications.
- However, Justice Karnan’s suo motu order was stayed by a division bench of the high court but Justice Karnan reiterated his previous order, violating the division bench’s stay order threatening the Chief Justice to initiate contempt proceedings against him if he interfered in his jurisdiction.
- The Madras High Court registry moved the Supreme Court asking for a stay on Justice Karnan’s order and it was stayed by a Supreme Court bench headed by then CJI Justice HL Dattu. A few days later, Justice Karnan accused another judge of sexually assaulting an intern within the premises of the high court.
- Justice Karnan, in November 2015, accused then Chief Justice of Madras High Court of giving him insignificant portfolios and expressed the desire to go on long leave and sent another letter to the then Law Minister criticizing the collegium system. He then sent a letter addressed to the Principal Accountant General in Chennai asking him to find out any financial irregularities that had been incurred by the Chief Justice and the Registrar General of Madras High Court.
- In February 2016, the Supreme Court transferred Justice Karnan to Calcutta High Court upon which Justice Karnan acted divergently and stayed the transfer order and asked the CJI to not interfere in his jurisdiction and file a response to the order.
- The Madras High Court registry approached the Supreme Court for an order to restrain Justice Karnan from issuing such an order. The Supreme Court quashed Justice Karnan’s stay order and withheld assignment of any work to him and ordered a blanket stay on all orders passed by Justice Karnan thereafter. However allowing him to contest the petition filed by the Madras High Court registry.
- Justice Karnan furnished a letter of apology to CJI Justice TS Thakur for staying his own transfer order andmarked his actions as under “loss of mental balance due to mental frustrations,” over alleged caste discrimination against him in the high court and agreed to transfer to the Calcutta High Court.
- Justice Karnan requested the Supreme Court registry to be allowed to argue the Madras High Court transfer case himself, which was accepted. Justice Karnan, in 2017, wrote to the Prime Minister making allegations of corruption against 20 high court and Supreme Court judges.
- The Supreme Court triggered suo motu contempt proceedings against Justice Karnan. CJI Khehar instituted a bench of seven senior most judges which issued notice to Justice Karnan and Karnan accused the Chief Justice led bench of upper caste bias in initiating proceedings against him.
- He alleged that the court order amounted to an offence under the SC and ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act and refused to attend the contempt proceedings asking for a compensation of Rs 14 crore from the seven-judge bench for disturbing his mind and normal life.
- Justice Karnan ordered the seven-judge bench to face proceedings for insulting him in open court and issued non-bailable warrants against the seven judges, ordered the CBI to probe his allegations against them and directed the Air Control Authority to restrain the seven judges from flying abroad and finally convicted the bench under the SC/ST Act for a term of 5 years.
- Conviction of Justice Karnan by Supreme Court.
Written By : Priyanshi Meena