The Delhi High Court today dismissed a plea of jailed former Calcutta High Court judge C S Karnan challenging the constitutional validity of the Contempt of Courts Act. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the petition, challenging the Supreme Court’s decision holding him in contempt and sending him to jail for six months, was “completely misdirected and untenable”.
“The writ petition laying such challenge before us is misconceived for the same reason and has to be rejected,” it said. The bench further said the constitutionality of the contempt law cannot be challenged in the instant case as the apex court “had not exercised power under the Contempt of Courts Act but invoked its inherent jurisdiction under Article 129 (to initiate matters on its own) of the Constitution”.
The high court in its 30-page verdict also said that if the apex court’s Registrar had refused to receive Karnan’s petition against the May 9 decision holding him in contempt, then he could have appealed against this as provided in the Supreme Court Rules. “The petitioner, therefore, had an efficacious alternate remedy available to him by way of an appeal prescribed under the Rules and has admittedly failed to invoke the same,” it said.
Karnan’s lawyer, Mathews J Nedumpara, had argued before the high court that the May 9 order was passed without following the principles of natural justice.
The high court rejected this contention, saying that “the record establishes that the petitioner was given more than ample opportunity to file his response”. “He was afforded at least three opportunities to tender his response, on February 8, March 31 as well as on May 1. Instead of availing the opportunities and doing so (tender his response), the petitioner resorted to passing orders against judges of the Supreme Court and making further contumacious statements to the press, as have been noted in the order of May 1,” the bench said.
The high court also said that “the petitioner was served with the notice to show cause. He was given repeated and adequate opportunity to present his defence. “The petitioner’s communications, orders and conduct establish that he had full knowledge of the orders of the court, proceedings as well as the material against him.”
The bench said the instant issue did not pertain to an illiterate or impoverished person, but an individual who was “legally trained” and was “an adjudicator holding a constitutional position”.
“The submission that principles of natural justice were not complied with is clearly not borne out from the record,” it added. Nedumpara had also argued that Karnan was under no legal obligation to file a response and was entitled to maintain silence.
To this, the high court has said, “Unfortunately, the petitioner did not remain silent.” The bench noted that Karnan, instead of filing a response before the court, chose to make public declarations of his defence and issued orders against the proceedings before the apex court. “In view of the above discussion, we find no merit in this writ petition which is hereby dismissed,” it said.