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The Curious Case of Justice Karnan

The actions against Justice C S Karnan of the Calcutta High Court by the Supreme Court, since contempt proceedings were initiated against him, appear to be a case of misplaced importance. The case raises questions regarding the disciplinary authority of the apex court over individual judges and the range of contempt jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court has, in a rare move, initiated contempt proceedings against Justice C S Karnan, a sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court, restrained him from hearing cases, and eventually found him guilty of contempt, convicted him and sentenced him to six months imprisonment. Contempt proceedings were initiated because he had levelled allegations of corruption against several judges of the Supreme Court and high courts without substantiating his claim with any evidence. He had written letters to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and even to the Prime Minister with a series of allegations against 20 high court judges. He also alleged that illegal money was recovered from some high court judges after the government announced demonetisation.

A seven-judge bench comprising the CJI and six other senior judges of the Supreme Court took notice of those letters and issued a suo motu contempt ruling upon Justice Karnan in an unprecedented exercise of judicial reprimand. He was summoned to appear in court in February 2017. He refused to attend the contempt proceedings, however, instead asking for a compensatory amount of ₹14 crore from the seven-judge bench for “disturbing his mind and normal life.”

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