Supreme Court sends Justice Karnan to jail for contempt

May 09, 2017 04:18 PM

New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Tuesday held sitting Calcutta High Court judge CS Karnan guilty of contempt of court and punished him with six month jail  “forthwith”.

This judgment issued by seven-member bench will go down into Indian judiciary’s history where a sitting high court judge was imprisoned for six months for contempt of court. 

Taking note of his defiance and a series of orders passed by him against the apex court judges, a seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar held that his conduct amounted to “gravest” nature of contempt.

“We are of the unanimous opinion that Justice CS Karnan has committed contempt of this court, of the judiciary as also the judicial process...of the gravest nature,” the bench said.

The court directed the West Bengal Director General of Police to execute the order “forthwith”.

It means Justice Karnan will be arrested immediately and sent to jail for six months. 

This way Justice Karnan has earned the dubious distinction of being the first sitting judge of a high court to be convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to a prison term.

Taking note of his utterances against the judges, the top court also restrained the media from reporting his statements.

The order comes a day after Justice Karnan--who had been passing bizarre orders against the CJI and six other judges of the top court hearing the contempt case against him--“convicted” them of various offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and awarded five-year imprisonment. 

Suspecting that he was mentally unfit, the Supreme Court had on May 1 ordered setting up of a medical board of doctors from a government hospital in Kolkata to examine Justice Karnan.

However, he refused to undergo the medical test ordered by the top court, saying he was perfectly fine.

During the proceedings on Tuesday, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi--representing the West Bengal Government--requested the court to drop contempt charges against Justice Karnan, saying the judiciary was getting a bad name in the entire controversy.

Senior advocate KK Venugopal--who appeared for the and--said the top court should send Justice Karnan to jail only after he retired in June.

However, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh and senior advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association President RS Suri supported the view that Justice Karnan should be punished.

“Contempt is has no colour. Whether you are a common man or a judge it doesn’t matter,” the bench said and went on to dictate the order.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan welcomed the order. “Glad SC finally nailed Karnan for gross contempt of court. He made reckless charges on judges and then passed ‘absurd’ orders against SC judges!” Bhushan tweeted.

Justice Karnan--who was proceeded against for contempt on February 8 for writing letters to various authorities, including the Prime Minister, accusing several judges of corruption—appeared before the court once on March 31 and thereafter chose not to turn up despite specific orders.

A seven-judge bench headed by CJI Khehar had said that the statements given by him to the press and the orders passed by him “indicate that he may not be in a position to defend him in these proceedings”.

The top court had restrained all courts, tribunals, commissions and authorities from acting on the orders passed by Justice Karnan, including the ones asking the top court judges to appear before him in Kolkata and directing airport authorities not to allow them to leave India.

Earlier, the CJI had asked Justice Karnan if he was mentally fit to understand the gravity of the contempt proceedings. The bench had given him four weeks to firm up his response and file an affidavit as he gave confusing and conflicting answers to the questions posed by the bench when he appeared before the top court.

On May 1, the court had given yet another opportunity to Justice Karnan to furnish his response in the matter.

Referring to the orders passed by Justice Karnan and statements made in the press since initiation of contempt proceedings against him on February 8, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had requested the court to straightway proceed to punish him as he had aggravated the contempt.

“Judiciary can’t become a laughing stock...this is something which is completely unacceptable,” Rohatgi had said.

However, Venugopal had said, “He can’t be taken seriously...Fortunately he is retiring in June,” and requested the bench to take up the matter after his retirement.

“It’s too late to initiate impeachment proceedings against him. Allow him to retire and then consider it after June,” he hsd said.

“Anybody can play this trick with us (that he is mentally unfit),” the bench had shot back.

Faced with a contempt charge, Justice Karnan had on March 31 dared the Supreme Court to send him to jail after it refused to restore his judicial and administrative work.

In an unprecedented order, the SC had on February 8 issued contempt notice to Justice Karnan and ordered him to forthwith refrain from discharging any judicial or administrative functions and return all files.

He had appeared before the top court following issuance of bailable warrant but made it clear that he would not appear on future dates.

After the March 31 hearing, Justice Karnan passed several orders against the Supreme Court judges, including CJI Khehar, saying they were in contempt of his order. He had earlier demanded Rs 14 crore as compensation from the seven judges on the bench for “disturbing his mind and normal life”.


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