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Justice Karnan sentenced: Image of the judiciary has been tarnished, Soli Sorabjee tells Firstpost

‘If you must break the law, do it to seize power. In all other cases, observe it,’ said Julius Caesar. There is a fundamental difference between men and the institutions that they build and leave behind. A man can be stabbed to death by other honourable men. But institutions don’t fall like a curtain on their own Shakespearean end. What is at stake and is ultimately lost in such a scenario is the honour of the character that threatens to disrupt the symphony of it all.

In an exclusive chat with Firstpost, former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee expressed his displeasure at the ongoing courtroom drama declared open by the Calcutta High Court Judge Justice CS Karnan when he named 20 corrupt judges of the country and wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding an investigation. A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court passed the order sentencing him to six months in prison. “The image of the judiciary has been tarnished in the eyes of the common man. It is unfortunate that Karnan has gone on to become the first judge of a Constitutional Court to be sentenced to imprisonment for contempt of court. He has brought down the image of the judiciary,” he rued.

File image of Justice CS Karnan. Image courtesy: Bar and Bench

File image of Justice CS Karnan. Image courtesy: Bar and Bench

Justice Karnan's lawyer has told the Supreme Court that the judge who accused 20 sitting and retired judges of the higher judiciary of corruption, now wants to tender an unconditional apology but the court registry isn’t accepting his application.

In terms of its moral impact, how different is the incident from when a Subrata Roy Sahara or a Vijay Mallya is caught on the wrong side of the law, we asked. “The law is the same for everybody.” Sorabjee feels what would have been worse is if the Supreme Court had taken a lenient view on the matter and tried to protect him. Instead of being bothered by the image that the incident sends out, the Supreme Court has rightly ensured that anybody who is found guilty, even if he is a guardian of the law, will not be spared if he breaks it.

The motive is still unknown but Soli Sorabjee feels the drama that Justice Karnan has staged isn’t impetuous and there is a script. In response to the apex court’s directive requiring him to have his head examined, from a makeshift court in his residence in Kolkata, Justice Karnan sentenced top Supreme Court judges (including the chief justice of India) to five years imprisonment penalising discriminatory action against the scheduled castes and tribes. “Look how he played the Dalit card. I don’t like this ‘I am a Dalit’, ‘I am a Muslim’ business. Karnan is putting forward calculated defences and is persisting with them,” said Soli Sorabjee, speculating that this could be a publicity stunt. Suddenly, the entire legal system has noticed this one high court judge. “Who is Karnan, up until now we didn’t know anything about him,” he asked, calling Karnan a shrewd fellow.

But Justice Karnan has displayed non-conformist tendencies since November 2011, when he made a representation before the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), alleging that he was being mistreated on caste grounds by his brother judges at the Madras High Court.

Since the man is mere weeks away from retirement, wouldn’t it have made sense for the Supreme Court to have waited instead of reaching this regrettably low point in the history of Indian judiciary? “The Supreme Court had no option. He could have caused a lot more damage by the time of his retirement and supposing he wasn’t retiring, he would have still been guilty of contempt of court. Oddballs like Karnan need to dealt with. He’s a mental case,” stated Soli Sorabjee.

Contempt jurisdiction is different from impeachment. Contempt is not about the person involved but about the effect of his actions, explained Soli Sorabjee, who has been Additional Solicitor General and Solicitor General of India from 1977 to 1980. “Exercise of contempt jurisdiction should be impartial and Karnan must be proceeded against. This is because a message has to go out that contempt is contempt and whether you’re the PM or the CM or a judge, you will have to face the consequences.”

What he isn’t happy about is the gag order on the media from reporting Justice Karnan’s purported orders. “I am not in favour of it at all. The gag order made no sense and was unnecessary. People will know what he says anyway.”

On the one hand is a man making outlandish scandalous statements to make headlines and on the other hand is the Supreme Court that had no option but to sentence this man and make a point that it treats its own brethren no differently than the way it treats other members of civil society. A no-win situation.

Updated Date: May 13, 2017 19:13 PM

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