The Supreme Court’s sentencing of Justice C S Karnan has raised the question whether the issue could have been handled differently. And opinion among judges is divided. “This is one of the ways, an effective way. Impeachment is a long-drawn process,” former attorney general Soli Sorabjee told The Indian Express Tuesday. “Karnan was going on making statements, completely irrational statements, making a mockery of the judicial process. Just because he is a judge, he cannot be subjected to a different treatment.”
Sorabjee added, however, that the court’s gag order on media from reporting Justice Karnan’s orders appeared “a bit strange”’. “I’m not happy with that part of the order,” Sorabjee said. “Judges sometimes do go overboard.”
A former Supreme Court judge, who did not wish to be named, felt the court ought to have handled the issue differently. “They should have handled it properly when Karnan was in Madras High Court. They thought he will come to his senses if they transfer him, but it did not work,” the judge said. “According to me, what they ought to have done is constitute a committee of judges to go into the matter and make their recommendation to the President for removing him.” He too appeared surprised by the direction to the media not to report Karnan’s orders. “Anyone who has access to print or electronic media already knows what is happening. What then is the point of the gag order?” he said.
Former Supreme Court judge K T Thomas feels the Supreme Court had done everything to prevent a confrontation but Justice Karnan’s attitude left it with no other option. “Contempt is a criminal offence. The court did its best to bring him to improve things. Just see how much time it gave him, but he made the court look so helpless and made it a lowered its respect in the minds of the general public. The only defence possible was insanity but even on that he refused to appear before the medical board and claimed himself to be of sound mind,” Thomas said.
“Impeachment,” Thomas pointed out, “can only be done by Parliament and will need the approval of MPs.” He added he could not “think of any other alternative to even suggest”.
Justice Karnan was elevated to the Madras bench after 25 years as a lawyer in March 2009. His name was recommended by a collegium comprising then Madras chief justice A K Ganguly and two senior judges. The proposal was sent to the Supreme Court which then approved it.
Speaking about Karnan’s appointment, then Chief Justice of India Justice K G Balakrishnan who headed the SC collegium that approved the Madras collegium’s recommendation, told The Indian Express that the SC could not be held responsible for Karnan’s appointment.
“We received the recommendation from the Madras HC collegium and it was also certified by two seniormost judges here. If it was a matter of appointment of SC judges, we could have done something or some judge here should anyone have raised objections about his competency. There was no advserse intelligence report on him either.”