In 2017, a Constitutional Bench of seven judges, led by the former Chief Justice JS Khehar, found Justice Karnan guilty of contempt.

Justice Karnan who was jailed by the Supreme Court in 2017 over contempt has come out in support of lawyer Prashant Bhushan who has been found guilty of contempt by the apex court Retired Justice CS Karnan and lawyer Prashant Bhushan
news Court Monday, August 24, 2020 - 17:27

Justice CS Karnan, who became the first Indian High Court judge to be jailed for contempt of court while in office, has spoken out in support of advocate Prashant Bhushan and called the contempt proceedings against him unconstitutional. The lawyer has been slapped with contempt by the Supreme Court over his tweets on Chief Justice SA Bobde. 

The former judge of the Madras and Calcutta High Court said, in an exclusive interview to Tamil news channel Puthiya Thalaimurai, that everyone has the right to point out wrongdoings of any judge. 

“I am a judge. I see this through (the lens of) justice. The contempt case on Prashant Bhushan is wrong. Speaking against Prashant Bhushan because he spoke against me at that time is immoral. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution provides fundamental rights. Similarly, Article 19(1) C provides freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in what Prashant Bhushan wrote about Chief Justice SA Bobde,” said the retired judge. 

He added, “The parliament cannot bring in any laws against the Indian Constitution. The contempt proceedings brought against Prashant Bhushan is in violation of the fundamental laws of India.”

In 2017, a Constitutional Bench of seven judges, led by the former Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, found Justice Karnan guilty of contempt. He became the first sitting judge to be convicted for contempt while in office. The controversy began when the judge wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging widespread corruption among sitting judges of the High Court as well as the Supreme Court. In May 2017, Justice Karnan sentenced the Chief Justice along with seven judges of the apex court to five years of rigorous imprisonment under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. 

When Justice Karnan was found guilty in the 2017 contempt case, Prashant Bhushan had welcomed it and criticised the judge. He had tweeted, “Glad SC finally jailed Karnan for gross contempt of court. He made reckless charges on judges & then passed absurd ‘ orders ‘ against SC judges!” 

On August 14, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari found Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court over two tweets. A tweet posted by the lawyer on June 27 about the functioning of the Indian judiciary over the past six years and another tweet on July 22 on Chief Justice SA Bobde photographed seated on Harley Davidson motorbike were deemed to constitute criminal contempt. The apex court’s verdict created an uproar even as several anti-caste activists trended #JusticeForKarnan, referring to the retired judge’s conviction.

In response, advocate Prashant Bushan defended his stand on supporting the contempt proceedings against the judge on Twitter. He wrote,” Some people are questioning why I supported the Conviction of Justice Karnan for Contempt of Court. Karnan had,apart from making absurd allegations against judges,abused his Judicial office to illegally order jailing SC judges etc He was interfering with administration of justice.”

When asked about this, Justice Karnan said, “He opposed me on the basis of caste. It was nothing but him thinking ‘how could a person from a Scheduled community question the Supreme Court?’ Back then, he wasn't looking for justice, he was just looking at my caste. Generally, if there is an allegation against a judge, it should be under the scope of the parliament and not the court. The judges on the High Court and the Supreme Court are appointed by the President of India. The SC does not have the right to investigate and punish a judge.”

Justice CS Karnan had served a six-month prison sentence till December 2017 after he was arrested for contempt of court. A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had found him to be guilty of contempt of court over his “judgements” against sitting and retired judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court.

Calling for an open and transparent system that deals with corruption charges against judges, Justice Karnan said, “The failure to expose the injustice that is happening in the judiciary leads it in the wrong direction. Only when the wrong doings are exposed, corruption will reduce.”

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