IN A FIRST, a sitting High Court judge will show up next month in Supreme Court to argue against the collegium’s mandate to transfer him.
The judge has written to the apex court about his decision to appear in person while the parent high court has sought orders to ask him to vacate his official bungalow in Chennai so that one of the newly-appointed judges could be allotted the accommodation.
Not just this, the high court also wants the judge to return 12 files that are allegedly still in his possession.
On December 21, Justice C S Karnan, a sitting judge of Calcutta High Court, wrote to the Supreme Court registry, apprising them of his willingness to appear in person and argue his case against the collegium’s proposal to transfer him out of Madras High Court.
This recommendation was made last February but is yet to be accepted by the judge. He had joined the Calcutta High Court in March 2016 after the President signed his warrant of transfer and set a deadline.
Last year, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended Justice Karnan’s transfer and the High Court served him with the proposal. But Justice Karnan, in an unprecedented move, suo motu “stayed” his transfer order, issued by then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur on February 12.
Justice Karnan also sought a response from the CJI regarding his transfer while asking him “not to interfere” with his jurisdiction. Justice Karnan questioned the authority of the CJI as the head of the Collegium to issue transfer orders for “better administration”.
His orders prompted the Madras High Court, through its Registrar General, to approach the top court with a plea to restrain the judge from issuing such orders. On February 15, 2016, the apex court restrained Justice Karnan from issuing any judicial order — suo motu or otherwise — and imposed a blanket stay on all directions issued by him after February 12 when the collegium moved to transfer him.
While also withdrawing all judicial and administrative work from Justice Karnan, the apex court gave him liberty to contest the petition by the High Court.
Days after the court order, Justice Karnan, wrote a letter to the CJI, blamed his actions on “loss of mental balance due to mental frustrations” over alleged caste bias against him in the High Court.
Justice Karnan, who has also been issued a formal notice in this matter, has now decided to appear on February 13 before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy. In his letter, the judge sought the discharge of his advocate and stated that he would argue his case on his own. The bench accepted his plea last week and allowed his counsel to withdraw.
Meanwhile, senior lawyer K K Venugopal, representing the High Court Chief Justice and the Registry, informed the bench that the government accommodation allotted to Justice Karnan in Chennai has not been vacated although rules prescribe that he must vacate it within a month of his transfer.
“The government accommodation is required, as 14 new judges have been appointed. A judge cannot keep the government accommodation for more than a month, once he ceases to be a judge of the High Court of the State of Tamil Nadu,” submitted Venugopal. The lawyer also complained that 12 files of the court are with Justice Karnan and are required to be returned.
The bench asked Venugopal to file a formal application in this regard within a week and sought the judge’s response on the plea to vacate the bungalow and return the files. “Let intimation be given to Hon’ble Mr Justice C S Karnan for the next date of hearing. List the matter on February 13,” stated the order.
All Supreme Court and high court judges are empowered under the Constitution to issue suo motu orders. The Supreme Court and the CJI exercise administrative authority over the high courts. However, a high court or an apex court judge can be removed only through impeachment by Parliament and not through any administrative or judicial order.
Justice Karnan has found himself amidst controversies earlier, too.
In June 2013, he had ruled that if a couple of legal age indulges in sexual gratification, it will be considered a valid marriage and they can be termed husband and wife. After facing backlash from the public and the legal fraternity, he issued a gag order to restrain others from making adverse comments.
He once addressed a press conference at his chamber, narrating the “humiliation” and “embarrassment” he faced in the High Court. He alleged that a fellow judge sitting cross-legged next to him at a meeting had touched him with his shoes deliberately before apologising, and that two other judges looked on “smilingly”. He has also lodged complaints with the national commission for SC/STs, claiming he was abused by fellow judges because he was a Dalit.