Vol. XLIII No. 24 June 16, 2019

Thinking together


Q.  High Court justice Karnan has been sentenced to six months in prison by the Supreme Court for contempt of court. Is this punishment justified? What is the stand of the CPI(M)?

G Ramesh, Chennai


Ans. Justice C S Karnan was a sitting judge of the Kolkata High Court. Earlier he had been serving as a judge in the Madras High Court since 2009. Throughout his career, Justice Karnan has behaved in an outrageous fashion violating all norms of higher judiciary. It was after he was restrained from conducting judicial work in the Madras High Court, that he was finally transferred to the Kolkata High Court by the Chief Justice of India. Here too the same pattern of accusing fellow judges and making up charges against judges of the Supreme Court continued.

Finally, a seven member bench of the Supreme Court headed by chief justice issued notice of contempt and summoned Karnan to appear before the bench. He refused to do so and continues to issue orders against the Supreme Court judges. It is after that that the Supreme Court bench sentenced him to six months in jail for contempt of Court.

This is an unprecedented step taken by the Supreme Court. While the Court had to take some measures against the judge, it also exposed the flaws and defects in the present system of appointment of judges and the method of their removal.

Before going into this matter, it should be mentioned that the Supreme Court alongwith sentencing the judge had barred the media from publishing or reporting the orders and views of Karnan. This step of the curbing the media coverage was excessive and uncalled for.

The case of Justice Karnan highlights the shortcomings and inadequacies in the present system of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary. The collegium system whereby a group of judges decide who should be judges in the high court and the supreme court is non-transparent and has no clear cut criteria on who should be appointed as judges. This should be changed. However, there cannot be a system of appointment of judges which will lead to the executive having a major say.

That is why the CPI(M) has proposed, since a long time, the setting up of a broad-based independent National Judicial Commission. Such a commission will have representatives of the higher judiciary, executive, eminent jurists and representatives of the legal fraternity.

Such an independent commission should also be entrusted with the task of dealing with the complaints about judges and their misbehaviour. The commission can be empowered to take disciplinary action against erring judges.

At present the only way a judge of a High Court or Supreme Court can be removed is through impeachment by parliament. This is a unwieldy and long drawn process and it is not capable of providing prompt decisions.

The Justice Karnan episode should provide the impetus for the setting up of a National Judicial Commission which can oversee the working of the higher judiciary in a comprehensive fashion.