On February 7, 2017, the Chief Justice initiated contempt of court proceedings against sitting Calcutta high court judge CS Karnan. This development is unique and has never before happened in Indian history.
Contempt of court
Contempt of court is the act of disobeying the being disrespectful towards a court of law and its officers. This could be in the form of behaviour which defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.
Only a few weeks ago, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju offered an apology to the SC to escape contempt of court charges over his comments on a 15 September 2016 judgment that had set aside the death penalty for the convict in Kerala’s Soumya rape-murder case. Contempt of court charges are a way that the Supreme Court maintains the dignity and integrity of the court.
Contempt of court in India
In India contempt of court is of two types, governed by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971:
- Civil Contempt Under Section 2(b) of the Act: civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
- Criminal Contempt Under Section 2(c) of the Act: criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
- Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
- Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
- Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner. (a) ‘High Court’ means the high court for a state or a union territory and includes the court of the judicial commissioner in any union territory.
Chief Justice JS Khekar’s charges
The Chief Justice initiated contempt of court proceedings Calcutta High Court judge CS Karnan for continuously levelling allegations against the Madras HC Chief Justice and other judges.
The proceedings will take place on Wednesday, February 8. The case will be heard by a bench headed by the Chief Justice himself.
In 2015, Karnan had threatened contempt proceedings against Chief Justice of Madras High Court, Sanjay Kaul. Karnan had accused Kaul of interfering in his judicial work and accused caste bias against him, alleging that Kaul discriminated against him because he was a Dalit. Karnan had also sought a CBI probe into the educational qualifications of another High Court Judge. These developments had plunged the Madras High Court into crisis.
Removal of judges in India
According to the Constitution, a removal motion passed by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament can remove a judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court.
The removal of judges is regulated by the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. While such motions have been introduced thrice in history, they have never resulted in a judge’s removal.
- A removal motion against Justice V Ramaswami was defeated in Parliament in May 1993 with the help of abstaining Congress MPs.
- Sikkim HC Chief Justice P D Dinakaran resigned in July 2011 ahead of the initiation of a removal motion against him in the Rajya Sabha.
- Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta HC argued his case unsuccessfully before the Rajya Sabha which passed the motion for his removal, but Sen resigned before the Lok Sabha could take up the motion.
The future course
The proceedings will take place on Wednesday, February 8. If Karnan is found guilty and sent to jail, his sacking as a High Court judge is subject to Parliament.