The absconding Justice CS Karnan has been finally traced and sentenced to jail for contempt of court but his legacy isn't only of embarrassment to the judiciary. As two senior judges of the Supreme Court of India admitted, while delivering the verdict on Karnan's case, it also reveals the systemic flaws in the process of selection of candidates to the high courts in the country.
While a seven-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar, accused Karnan of turning the judicial system into "a laughing stock", Justice J Chelameswar and Justice Ranjan Gogoi pointed fingers at the collegium that appointed the errant judge to the Madras High Court in the first place. There was a failure to access Karnan's personality, they said.
As The Indian Express noted, Justice Chelameswar has been an outspoken critic of the collegium system, and had opposed the October 2016 majority judgement of the Supreme Court that scrapped the National Judicial Appointments Commission, which the Narendra Modi government has been trying to put in place.
Although the two judges did not wish to point fingers at any individuals for Justice Karnan's elevation to the high court bench, they did outline several lessons from the incident.
"This case highlights two things, (1) The need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts, for that matter any member of the judiciary at all levels; and (2) the need to set up appropriate legal regime to deal with situations where the conduct of a Judge of a constitutional court requires corrective measures — other than impeachment — to be taken," NDTV quoted from their verdict.
Justice Karnan has never shied away from controversies, having accused members of the judiciary of discriminating against colleagues along caste lines. In January this year, he said at least 20 sitting and retired judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts were corrupt. In May, he ordered the arrest of eight Supreme Court judges and sentenced them to five years' rigorous imprisonment. But a day later, a seven-member bench of the same court found him guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months' jail. He became the first sitting judge in the history of India's judiciary to be charged so.
On 9 May Justice Karnan left for Coimbatore and went into hiding. On 18 May he filed a mercy plea before President Pranab Mukherjee seeking a stay on the SC's arrest order. When he retired in June, he didn't get a farewell.
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