Justice Karnan had termed 33 judges ‘corrupt’, got six months jail
NEW DELHI: Ten former judges have endorsed a resolution expressing concern over contempt proceedings against activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, termed it an attempt to stifle right to free speech and demanded withdrawal of the contempt proceedings.
Contempt notices won’t make Bhushan lose sleep. He is seasoned by the Supreme Court’s numerous contempt proceedings against him over the decades — 2001 dharna by Narmada Bachao Andolan outside the SC main gate protesting against a judgment during which slogans questioning the integrity of judges and the fairness of judiciary were freely raised; 2009 media interview calling half of 16 former CJIs corrupt; and now tweeting about the alleged role played by four former CJIs in the “decimation of democracy”. He also insinuated against the present CJI for sitting on a stationary bike without a mask or a helmet while keeping the courts in lockdown to deny access to justice to commoners.
Right to free speech has been his argument to thumb his nose at contempt proceedings. The gutsy advocate has never shied away from an opportunity to harp on corruption among judges. He seldom put forth evidence in the public domain. He chose to trust his gut feelings and inferences.
When Bhushan was hitting the headlines with his “half of 16 former CJIs are corrupt” insinuation, C S Karnan became a judge of Madras HC. Flashing his Dalit card to play victim, Karnan tried to pulverise his colleagues in the HC by adopting a strategy similar to Bhushan’s. He shot off letters periodically to the HC chief justice, the CJI and occasionally to the PM alleging corruption among judges. As long as his unpleasant accusations and theatrics as a self-proclaimed crusader were confined to the HC, the SC was hardly perturbed.
Soon, matters came to a head. He levelled corruption charges not only against Madras HC judges but also defied the SC. The then CJI and six most senior SC judges came on a bench to draw up contempt charges against him and created history by proceeding against a sitting HC judge. By that time, Karnan was already transferred from Madras HC to Calcutta HC.
The gist of what Karnan told the SC resembled Bhushan’s statements. The judge had said, “My main contention is only to uproot corruption prevailing in Madras HC, and not to spoil the sanctity and decorum of the court. I fight for righteousness and for the welfare of the general public of India. I reiterate as always, during the last few years, about the high rate of corruption in the courts I served and still serve besides the Supreme Court of India. I will not cease my efforts and will continue to fight until every wrongdoing is uprooted.”
On May 9, 2017, the CJI-led seven-judge bench convicted Karnan for contempt of court and sentenced the sitting HC judge to six months imprisonment, a first in the history of Indian judiciary.
On the bench were Justices J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur, who have now endorsed the resolution expressing solidarity with Bhushan and termed his criticism of judges and the SC as right to free speech to demand withdrawal of contempt proceedings.
Why did they not adopt the same evaluation process while deciding the contempt charges against Karnan? Why did they not write dissenting opinions differing with the majority which punished Karnan and give him a clean chit for exercising free speech in alleging corruption among judges?
While convicting Karnan, the SC had said, “Karnan’s public utterances turned the judicial system into a laughing stock. The local media, unmindful of the damage it was causing to the judicial institution, merrily rode the Karnan wave. Even the foreign media had its dig at the Indian judiciary.”
Karnan had levelled corruption charges against 33 judges, 14 of the SC and 19 of Madras HC. “None of the allegations levelled by Karnan were supported by any material,” the main judgment, authored by then CJI J S Khehar and agreed to among others by Justice Lokur, said.
Justice Chelameswar wrote a separate judgment concurring with the punishment awarded to Karnan. He said, “Whether the various allegations made by Karnan are based on any evidence to establish the truth of the allegations is a matter which cannot be examined in these proceedings.” And yet he went on to give his view, “The allegations are too vague and some of them even incoherent.”
Justice Chelameswar enunciated two principles. First: “If the contemnor (Karnan) believes and has material with him to establish that some of the judges of Madras HC are corrupt or otherwise guilty of some offence known to law, he is required to approach the appropriate forum competent to examine those allegations.
Second: “Unfortunately, the contemnor appears to be oblivious of one of the fundamental principles of law that a complainant/informant cannot be a judge in his own complaint.”
Did Justices Chelameswar and Lokur apply these two principles to scrutinise Bhushan’s statements before demanding withdrawal of contempt proceedings drawn up suo motu by the SC? If they are right on Bhushan, they were surely wrong in writing or acquiescing to those harsh words and punishment for Karnan.
Recognising that “scandalising the court is still recognised to be an act of contempt of court”, Justice Chelameswar had said, “Such conduct and action (on the part of Karnan), if tolerated, would certainly reflect an element of weakness in the system, no such weakness can be allowed to enter the system.”
Does “weakness” fertilise in the thought process of a judge after his retirement?
Courtesy : TNN