Re, Hon’ble Shri Justice C.S. Karnan (2017)

The instant case pertains to actions of criminal contempt, committed by Shri Justice C.S. Karnan. The present post shall discuss the sequence of events with regard to the proceedings against Justice Karnan and how he responded to the orders of the Apex Court.

The Bench comprising of the seven senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court was constituted, to examine whether or not ShriJustice C.S. Karnan was guilty of having committed contempt. On the administrative side, the entire material was entrusted to the Attorney General for India. He was also requested to assist the Court, in the matter, on the judicial side.


  • The factual position which emerged in this case, during the course of hearing, was almost entirely based on the contents of correspondence addressed by Justice Karnan. They eventually resulted in his transfer from the Madras High Court to the High Court of Calcutta.
  • The episode of his transfer was preceded by letters written by a series of former Chief Justices of the Madras High Court, to the then Chief Justice(s) of the Supreme Court of India, seeking his transfer. The transfer of Shri Justice C.S. Karnan was also sought, through a joint representation addressed by 20 sitting Judges of the Madras High Court.
  • During this period, and unconnected with the reasons for seeking his transfer, the Registrar General of the Madras High Court approached this Court, highlighting the fact that Shri Justice C.S. Karnan had initiated suo-moto writ proceedings, wherein, he had stayed administrative orders passed by the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.
  • The Apex Court issued a direction on the petition filed by the Registrar General.
  • Shri Justice C.S. Karnan continued to foul mouth his colleagues at the High Court of Madras, by addressing communications to the highest executive and judicial authorities.
  • In terms of the roster issued by the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, with effect from 1.2.2016, Justice Karnan was assigned to hear criminal revision – admission and final  hearing, and specially ordered matters. Justice Karnan was passing orders in complete disregard to the roster assigned to him. It was also asserted, that Justice Karnan had been repeatedly interfering or reopening issues, even in currently pending matters before other Benches of the High Court.
  • Having viewed the unsavory allegations levelled by Justice Karnan over a span of time, it was prima-facie felt, that his conduct towards a large number of named Judges and the judiciary in general, had seriously blemished and tarnished the image of those concerned in particular, and the judiciary as a whole. It was accordingly decided to initiate suo-motu proceedings, for contempt of Court.

Chronology of Events

8.2.2017 –  The Bench passed the first judicial order as under –

“1.Issue notice to Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, returnable on 13.02.2017.
2. The Registry is directed to ensure, that a copy of this order, and the letters taken note of while issuing notice, are furnished to Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, during the course of the day, through the Registrar General of the Calcutta High Court.
3. Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, shall forthwith refrain from handling any judicial or administrative work, as may have been assigned to him, in furtherance of the office held by him. He is also directed to return, all judicial and administrative files in his possession, to the Registrar General of the High Court immediately.
4.  Shri Justice C.S. Karnan shall remain present in Court in person, on the next date of hearing, to show cause.

5. The learned Attorney General has assisted us during the 2 course of hearing, today. We request him to assist us, during the course of further proceedings in the matter.”


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan in response to the order dated 8.2.2017  addressed a letter to the Registrar General of this Court.


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, was duly served the notice in the
Suo-Motu Contempt Petition. The Bench granted liberty to Justice Karnan to appear in person on 10.3.2017 – the next date of hearing.


Justice Karnan addressed another letter to the Secretary-General of this Court. And through the Secretary-General, to the members of the Bench dealing with the contempt proceedings. In the instant letter, he requested the Bench, to restore his judicial and administrative work, as he was to retire shortly. He also undertook to cooperate with this Court, in furtherance of the contempt proceedings initiated against him.

Justice Karnan also addressed a separate letter dated 13.2.2017,
purporting to be his explanation, to the show cause notice issued to him.


To procure the presence of Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, this Court passed the  order –

“3. In view of the above, there is no other alternative but to seek the presence of Shri Justice C.S.Karnan by issuing bailable warrants. Ordered accordingly. Bailable warrants, in the sum of Rs.10,000/- (Rupees ten thousand), in the nature of a personal bond, to the satisfaction of the arresting officer, be issued, to ensure the presence of Shri Justice C.S.Karnan, in this Court, on
31.03.2017, at 10.30 A.M.
4. We would appreciate if the aforesaid bailable warrants, are served on Shri Justice C.S.Karnan, by the Director General of Police, West Bengal.
5. Post for hearing on 31.03.2017, at 10.30 A.M.”


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan purportedly in exercise of suo-motu extra ordinary original jurisdiction (under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), passed an order dated 10.3.2017.

The above suo-motu order was endorsed to this Court. It was also
endorsed to the Rajya Sabha Secretariat (Legislative Section).


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan passed another suo-motu judicial order (purportedly,invoking Article 226 of the Constitution of India, read with Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure).


Justice Karnan addressed the further communication to the members of this Bench.


The bailable warrant issued in this case, to procure the personal
presence of Shri Justice C.S. Karnan. Having signed the same in token of being duly served, Shri Justice C.S.Karnan recorded a note thereon.


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan also addressed a letter dated 17.3.2017 to the
members of the Bench hearing this case.


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan appeared in person, and advanced submissions.
During the course of hearing, he also handed over to the Bench, the signed text, dated 25.3.2017.


The court passed the fourth judicial order. After the above order had been dictated, Justice Karnan while moving away commented, that he may be sent to jail, but he would not appear before this Court again.


Shri Justice C.S. Karnan did not enter an appearance on next date of hearing. this Court was prima facie of the view, that he may not be in a fit condition to defend himself. It was, therefore, that his medical examination, was ordered.


Since no report has been submitted by the Board of Doctors, we would assume, that they had found nothing significant enough to report. We would, therefore, accept the assertion of Justice Karnan, that he is medically and mentally fit, to defend himself.


  • We are of the considered view, that Justice Karnan shielded
    himself from actions, by trumpeting his position, as belonging to an under-privileged caste. By assuming the above position, he levelled obnoxious allegations against innumerable Judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justices of the High Courts, but mostly against Judges of the Madras High Court. (Para 34)
  • None of the allegations levelled by Justice Karnan were supported by any material. His allegations were malicious and defamatory, and pointedly by name, against many of the concerned Judges. He carried his insinuations to the public at large, in the first instance, by endorsing his letters carefully so as to widely circulate the contents of his communications, to the desired circles. Some of his letters were intentionally endorsed, amongst others, to the President of the Tamil Nadu Advocate Association. And later, through the internet, he placed his point of view, and the entire material, in the public domain. (Para 35)
  • During the course of hearing of the instant contempt petition, his ridicule of the Supreme Court remained unabated. In fact, it was heightened, as never before. (Para 35)
  • The actions of Shri Justice C.S.Karnan constituted the grossest and gravest actions of contempt of Court. He has also committed contempt, in the face of the Court. He is therefore liable to be punished, for his unsavoury actions and behavior. We are satisfied that he should be punished for his above actions, with imprisonment for six months.( Para 36)

Author’s Comments

The decision in the above case is an example that the judiciary does not hesitate a bit to take action against one of its own members in case of contempt of the judicial system. It is unfortunate that Justice Karnan , inspite of  being a Justice acted so unwisely and failed to respect the orders of the Supreme Court. The decision of the Apex Court is highly appreciable.

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Bhumika Sharma

She is currently a Research Scholar, (PhD) at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. She finds peace in research and writing on a variety of social issues. She believes in the power of education and awareness to deal with various problems.

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