New Delhi: In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Tuesday slapped six months of imprisonment on Calcutta high court’s Justice C.S. Karnan for committing contempt of the judiciary and also the judicial process of the gravest nature.
This is for the first time that a sitting high court judge has been jailed for contempt. A bailable warrant was issued earlier to secure his presence in the court to answer contempt charges for calling certain judges corrupt, but he refused to do so. The court said the media should not publish any further statements made by him.
A seven-judge bench of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justices Dipak Misra, J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Kurian Joseph passed the order as the court felt that Justice Karnan by his statements and orders had committed contempt of court, which warrants strict punishment under the Contempt of Courts Act. The bench asked West Bengal’s DGP to constitute a team of officers to take him into custody forthwith.
On May 1, the court had ordered his medical examination in Kolkata on May 4 on the ground that he was medically unfit to defend himself to the contempt proceedings initiated on February 8 for his letters to the Prime Minister and other constitutional authorities seeking a probe against judges. But Justice Karnan refused to subject himself to the medical examination.
Additional solicitor general Maninder Singh informed the court that Justice Karnan had even on May 8 passed an order against eight SC judges. He said a message should go that this kind of conduct cannot be left unpunished and that he should be held guilty of contempt.
Taking note of this, the bench in its order said that since incidents of contempt which include public statements and press conferences made by Justice Karnan have been published by the electronic and the print media, “we are of the view that no further statements made by him should be published by the media.”
Earlier senior counsel Rakesh Diwedi appearing for West Bengal informed the court that a team of doctors went to the residence of Justice Karnan on May 4 and he had refused to undergo the test. The doctors have sent a report to this court to this effect.
The CJI told the counsel, “The medical board has not contradicted the statement of Justice Karnan that he is medical fit, if that was so it could have informed us.”
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal appearing for Madras high court said Justice Karnan had declared himself medically fit but the question is whether this court will get the blemish that a sitting HC judge will be punished.
The CJI told the counsel, “We are looking at him not as a judge. He is a citizen. This case has no colour. We can’t distinguish him from others as he is a sitting judge. The blemish is one against the other, whether this court can leave him.”
Justice Karnan did not appear before the apex court on February 13 as directed by a seven-judge bench on February 8. He was given a second opportunity to appear on March 10. As he did not appear, a bailable warrant was issued. On March 31 he appeared but did not file his reply. He again did not appear on May 1, when a medical test was ordered. Even on Tuesday, he did not appear.