The Justice Karnan controversy: Issues involved

What recently happened?

The Supreme Court of India had recently summoned one of the judges of Kolkata High Court on contempt of court charges. The judge in question is Justice Karnan.

He had to face the contempt proceedings at the Supreme Court of India because of the letter that he wrote to the Prime Minister of India sometime back alleging gross corruption in the Supreme Court of India and insinuating corruption on the part of several sitting judges of the court.

After the first hearing of the contempt proceedings, the accused Judge has once again been in news – this time because he has issued summons to the Chief Justice of India and six sitting judges of the Supreme Court. In the legal history of India, it is an unprecedented step that was a High Court judge Jas summoned the Supreme Court judges to appear in his Court.

A brief history

Earlier Justice Karnan was serving in Madras High Court. Because of this intemperate behaviour and controversial activities, he was transferred to the Kolkata High Court. This transfer was essentially a punishment handed over to him by the Supreme Court of India.

In spite of this punitive action, his behaviour remains unchanged. The latest spat with the Supreme Court is a clear evidence of that.

The issues involved

The issue very clearly underlines the deficiency of the present collegium system of judicial appointments in India. It goes without saying that the controversial judge himself has been appointed by the collegium system. The experts of law and judicial system say that India urgently requires greater transparency in the entire process involving appointment in the higher judiciary of India.

The present episode is not only unfortunate but it brings bad name to the Indian judiciary. Episodes like this erode people’s trust in the judiciary, which ultimately will shake the very foundation of rule of law.

Options available

The Supreme Court of India has already started contempt proceedings against the Judge. He may very well be punished for his unacceptable behaviour.

Another option is impeachment. However, impeachment can be carried out only in the Parliament. To initiate this process, there must be a political consensus.

Observers point out that impeachment may not be the best option in this specific case. There are two reasons for this.

  1. The judge in question is going to retire in June 2017. Impeachment process may take a longer time. Thus, no purpose will be served.
  2. During the impeachment process the Judge will be given an opportunity to present his case. It is feared that he will exploit the opportunity to once again to level unsubstantiated charges. With the entire proceedings being telecast, it will have very damaging effect on people’s confidence in the judiciary.

Thus, under the present circumstances, the contempt proceedings started by the Supreme Court seem to be only practical option.

The road ahead

There is no doubt that the present controversy can be taken care of by the apex court of the country. But, there is a clear need to make the higher judicial appointments much more transparent than what it presently is. There must be clear and objective criteria for appointments to the higher judiciary.

There must also be clear provisions to remove a judge from his position in such cases when his or her conduct becomes unsuitable for a Judge and threatens the authority of the courts in general.

The Supreme Court of India, which has so far is strongly resisted giving any is giving any space to the executive in the matters of judicial appointment, needs to be think upon its rigid stance. It is the need of the hour, to save the Indian judiciary and rule of law in general.