IN A FIRST, the Supreme Court has restrained a sitting High Court judge 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.
The apex court was compelled to issue the unusual order Monday after Madras High Court judge Justice C S Karnan suo motu “stayed” his transfer order, issued by the 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.”
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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.
On Monday, a bench of Justices J S Khehar and R Banumathi had initially allowed the Madras High Court chief justice to stop assigning any judicial work to Justice Karnan in view of his transfer to Kolkata. The bench had taken into account an affidavit filed by the registrar of the high court, stating Justice Karnan shouted and hurled the “choicest of abuses” at him when he went to inform the judge about the transfer.
At this point, representing the High Court Chief Justice and the Registry, senior lawyer K K Venugopal informed the bench that Justice Karnan may exercise his suo motu power and stay the transfer order during the day.
But the bench responded that such concerns can be taken care of as and when any contentious orders are passed by Justice Karnan. But soon, Venugopal rushed back to inform the bench that Justice Karnan has stayed the CJI’s order after taking suo motu cognisance.
Justice Khehar then updated his two-hour-old order to state: “Having taken note of the situation, in our view it would be appropriate that Hon’ble Mr Justice C S Karnan should hear and dispose of only such matters as are specially assigned to him by Hon’ble Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. It will be open to Hon’ble Chief Justice of the High Court, not to assign any further administrative/judicial work to him. This would imply that no other orders shall be passed by Hon’ble Mr Justice C S Karnan, suo motu or otherwise, in any matter not specially assigned to him.” The bench also made it clear: “The operation of all or any administrative/judicial order(s) passed by Hon’ble Mr Justice C S Karnan, after the issuance of the proposal of his transfer from the Madras High Court dated 12.02.2016 (unless specially assigned to him, by Hon’ble the Chief Justice), shall remain stayed till further orders.”
In his order, Justice Karnan referred to a judgment by a nine-judge Supreme Court bench in 1993, better known as Second judges case, to hold that the CJI’s proposal of transfer goes against this judgement.
“I am apt to constrain Your Lordship’s Order after invoking Article 226 of the Constitution of India, by staying Your Lordship’s tentative recommendation Order dated 12.02.2016… I request Your Lordship not to interfere in my jurisdiction, as I am in the process of finalizing an order on merits.” Justice Karnan told the CJI. He also requested the CJI to submit a written statement on the issue through his subordinates by April 29.
Justice Karnan sent a copy of the judicial order to the President, Prime Minister, Union Law Minister and to other political leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati, as well as National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Justice Karnan is known for his penchant for controversies. In June 2013, he 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 National Commission for SC/ST claiming he was abused by fellow judges because he was a Dalit.