Justice Karnan’s outrageous defiance

Justice C.S. Karnan’s continuance as a judge makes a mockery of the rule of law

He has brought the judiciary into disrepute, flouted all norms of judicial conduct and thrown an open challenge to the Supreme Court. His continuance as a judge makes a mockery of democracy and the rule of law. The case of Justice C.S. Karnan is no longer just strange or curious; it is disgraceful and intolerable. The Calcutta High Court judge’s ‘order’ summoning the Chief Justice of India and six judges of the Supreme Court to his ‘residential court’ to face punishment under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is yet another unacceptable affront to the apex court’s authority. Justice Karnan’s conduct goes against the assurance he gave the Chief Justice of India last year that he would foster a “harmonious attitude towards one and all”. At that time, he had expressed regret for passing a suo motu order staying his own transfer from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court, admitting that it was an “erroneous order” passed due to “mental frustration, resulting in loss of mental balance”. The latest instance of his misconduct is in response to the contempt proceedings initiated against him by the Supreme Court for denigrating the judicial institution by making sweeping allegations, in a letter to the Prime Minister, against several judges. He had appeared in person before a seven-judge Bench on March 31, and was given four weeks to respond to the charge of contempt of court. It is quite apparent that he is only further damaging his own case.

The recalcitrant judge has a long history of alleging corruption among other judges, accusing some of caste discrimination against him, and often invoking his caste identity to take complaints against his peers and even Chief Justices to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. In the past, he has passed judicial orders on matters pertaining to the selection of judges, even after being barred by a Division Bench from hearing them. He had once barged into a court during a hearing, and on another occasion into the chamber of the Madras High Court Chief Justice, “hurling a volley of invectives”. Public criticism, transfer to another High Court, being hauled up for contempt and being denied judicial work — nothing seems to restrain him. The only option left is impeachment, but it is a political process involving Parliament and is something he himself may want so he can give full play to his alleged grievances, including those based on his caste. Justice Karnan’s case vividly exposes the inadequacies of the collegium system of appointments. Nothing makes a better case for the infusion of greater transparency in the selection of judges than his current presence in the High Court.

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