IN A FIRST, high court judge C S Karnan was Wednesday ordered by a seven-judge Supreme Court bench to show up on February 13 and respond to a show-cause notice of contempt of court for writing letters in which he levelled corruption charges against several serving and retired apex court and high court judges.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and six senior-most judges of the apex court, also restrained Justice Karnan from dealing with any judicial or administrative work till further orders.
“Justice C S 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,” stated the order.
The court said all letters and other communication that formed the basis of suo motu contempt of court proceedings shall be supplied to Justice Karnan on Monday to enable him to argue his case.
A fortnight ago, Justice Karnan had written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to take action against what he described as “high corruption at the judiciary”. In his letter dated January 23, the judge furnished “an initial list of corrupt judges”, and named 20 judges of Supreme Court and high courts.
On Wednesday, while seeking the judge’s personal presence, the bench said issuance of a notice of contempt to an HC judge was a “matter of vital importance” since there had been no such precedent and that whatever the seven-judge bench now rules would be the law for years to come.
The Constitution bench, which also included Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph, added that the court has to be “very careful” in the manner it proceeds in this matter and sought assistance of Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi and senior lawyer K K Venugopal.
Earlier, the AG, who is the officer of the court for prosecuting suo motu contempt proceedings, urged the bench to proceed against Justice Karnan as his communications were “completely scandalous, calculated and brought disrepute to the institution”.
“The time has come for this court to set an example that it would not hesitate to act even against one of its own if a dent is sought to be caused in the administration of justice,” said Rohatgi, adding that the high court chief justice should be “directed” to withdraw all judicial and administrative work from Justice Karnan.
The bench, however, said it would not need to involve the “poor” chief justice of the high court when the top court could pass such an order on its own.
On February 13, Justice Karnan has another case in the apex court to argue. In this matter, he had stayed his own transfer from Madras high court. The Supreme Court was compelled to step in last year after he passed a judicial order not just staying his own transfer, mooted by the apex court collegium, but also sought an explanation from the CJI over the move.
The top court had then restrained him from issuing any judicial order – suo motu or otherwise – and imposed a blanket stay on all directions issued by him after February 12, 2016, when the Collegium moved to transfer him. He had a few months later joined Calcutta high court when the President set a deadline..