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In A First, Supreme Court Issues Contempt Notice Against A Sitting High Court Judge

Justice CS Karnan was transferred from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court for his offensive conduct.

08/02/2017 8:56 AM IST | Updated 08/02/2017 6:38 PM IST
B Mathur / Reuters

NEW DELHI -- In an unprecedented step, the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a contempt notice to a sitting Calcutta High Court judge Justice C.S. Karnan for writing letters casting aspersions on several judges.

Asking Justice Karnan to appear before it in person on 13 February, a constitution bench comprising Khehar and six other judges directed that Justice Karnan would not discharge any judicial and administrative functions during the pendency of the proceedings.

Justice Karnan "shall remain present in Court in person, on the next date of hearing, to show cause".

It also directed Karnan to hand over all files relating to his judicial and administrative functions to the Registrar General of the High Court.

Justice Karnan "shall forthwith refrain from handling any judicial or administrative work, as may have been assigned to him, in furtherance of the office held by him. He is also directed to return, all judicial and administrative files in his possession, to the Registrar General of the High Court immediately", said the constitution bench in its order.

Noting the assistance by the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on Wednesday, the court in its order said that he would assist the court in the course of further proceedings.

Besides Chief Justice Khehar, other judges on the bench are Justice Dipak Misra, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Kurian Joseph.

The issuance of contempt notice to Justice Karnan assumes significance as it is for the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that it has invoked powers to initiate contempt proceedings against a sitting judge of a High Court.

At the outset of the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court that the nature of various communications by Justice Karnan were "very very scandalous" and "embarrassing" and the "time has come for this court to act".

He urged the court to act so that a clear message should go to the citizens that the top court will not hesitate in taking action against its own judge in the High Court.

Urging the court to ask the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court not to assign Justice Karnan any judicial or administrative work, AG said that he was through his actions "destroying the administration of justice".

The AG said this pointing out that Justice Karnan wrote disparaging letters to the Prime Minister, Law Minister, Supreme Court Registrar about sitting and retired top court and High court judges. In case of some judges, Justice Karnan had even levelled the allegation of corruption and caste discrimination.

Justice Karnan had also stayed the top court collegium's decision transferring him from Madras High Court to Calcutta High Court.

AG said that the top court was empowered under Article 129 of the constitution read with Article 142(2) to punish the High Court judges and the members of subordinate judiciary.

However, Chief Justice Khehar said that since it was happening for the first time and "We have to be very careful in going about it."

"We must be as careful as we can be. We have to see what we can so, what we can't do... it is a vital issue. We have to see cause and effect," said Chief Justice Khehar.

"This is presumptuous. You are presuming," the bench said as Attorney General said that "any further communication (from Justice Karnan) will compound the matters".

"We are receiving letters from him for a long time. Suppose if he denies writing letters, it will change the situation. We will have to hear him and we have to hear every one," the bench told the AG who was advocating a strong action against his alleged misconduct and to protect the judiciary.

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