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Defiant Calcutta High Court Judge Justice C S Karnan, facing contempt, today failed to appear in the Supreme Court which took note of the "tenor" of his press briefings and orders and directed his mental health check-up by a team of doctors with the support of cops.
Reacting to the order, a belligerent Justice Karnan said in Kolkata that he will not appear before such a medical board as directed by the Supreme Court.
A plea that Justice Karnan, due to retire in June, be "allowed to go" as he was not in a position to defend himself, did not cut much ice with a 7-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, which said "anybody can play this trick with us and go".
Taking note of the fact that Justice Karnan has been passing orders despite being restrained and holding press briefings, the bench said, "the tenor of press briefings as also purported orders passed by him indicate that he may not be in a position to defend himself.
"Therefore, we consider it in the fitness of the matter to require him to be medically examined. We hereby direct the Calcutta Hospital to constitute a board of doctors to examine Shri Justice C S Karnan and submit a report."
The bench, which also comprised Justices Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M B Lokur, P C Ghose and Kurian Joseph, asked the director general of police (DGP) of West Bengal to constitute a team of police personnel to assist the medical board in carrying out the tests on Justice Karnan on May 4.
The medical report of Justice Karnan has to be submitted "on or before May 8" and the apex court would take up the contempt plea, initiated suo motu (on its own), for hearing a day after.
The top court, which had taken away the judicial and administrative powers from the HC judge, also made it clear that no court, tribunal and commission in the country would consider or obey the orders passed by Justice Karnan after February 8.
It said Justice Karnan may file his reply, if he is "advised so", by May 8, otherwise "we will assume that he has nothing to say".
At the outset, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi referred to the recent actions including the order passed by Justice Karnan summoning eight SC judges and said he is giving "two hoots" to the judiciary and "aggravating" his contempt before the highest court of the land.
Non-action will make the judiciary a "laughing stock" as the common persons' confidence in the system would be shaken, he said.
Referring to the orders passed by Justice Karnan after February 8, the CJI said, "I don't understand the nature of the orders. But he is in clear breach of our orders. The nature of the orders is clearly in teeth of our orders".
Rohatgi said that Justice Karnan was "aggravating" his position every day and "he has done it again and again... This is completely unacceptable".
The bench observed that these actions may also indicate that "he is not in position to defend himself".
"This is a gross criminal contempt. This is not a civil contempt....This court has been very patient with him," the Attorney General said.
Senior advocate K K Venugopal, who represents Madras High Court Registry in a connected matter, referred to various orders of Justice Karnan and said he cannot be taken "seriously" and moreover since he was due to retire in June, "so let him go."
To this, the bench said "what is this? Let him retire? Anybody can play this trick with us. He (Karnan) has taken advice from some senior lawyer...This court should never be construed as shying away from dealing with such issues.
"We cannot escape from dealing with it. We must deal with it so that it does not happen again."
The bench said the judiciary "must deal with it" or lose face.
Rohatgi said that Justice Karnan has ordered "Your Lordships to appear before him today".
"Today? Oh, that's why he is not present here. He is expecting us there," the CJI said.
The bench concurred with the views of the Attorney General that the Contempt law was meant to ensure that the Rule of Law prevails and people continue to have faith in the judicial system.
Taling to mediapersons in Kolkata today, Justice Karnan said he will not appear before a medical board for examining his health as directed by the apex court. He also threatened to "pass suo motu suspension order against the Director General of Police (DGP) of West Bengal, if the DGP functions against my wish."
On March 31, Justice Karnan had appeared in the Supreme Court, a first in Indian judicial history, and had sought restoration of his powers as a condition for his re- appearance, but the plea was rejected. He had also said he would not appear before it again even if he was arrested and put in jail.
The bench had referred to Justice Karnan's March 23 communication, in which he had sought to withdraw his earlier letters allegedly casting aspersions on other judges and had asked him whether he wanted to tender "unconditional apology".
"Actually, I am not a contemnor. My work has been taken away for me without any notice to me or without giving me an opportunity to be heard. For the last two months, I have gone through so much, people ask me questions about it and I have no answer. You all have taken a suo motu contempt proceeding against me, you have issued notice to me but at the same time you fixed the punishment by taking away my work," he had said.
The bench had gone to the extent of suggesting Justice Karnan, who had defiantly refused to appear before the bench despite summons, that he may file some medical records pertaining to his mental condition.
"I do not need medical records. Without hearing me, how can this be done," Justice Karnan had replied and had sought restoration of his powers which was rejected.
The apex court had on March 10 issued a bailable warrant against Justice Karnan to ensure his presence before it in the contempt case. The warrant had come almost a month after the court had asked Justice Karnan to appear in person and explain why contempt proceedings not be initiated against him.
However, Justice Karnan did not appear before the apex court on February 13.
Justice Karnan was transferred from the Madras HC to the Calcutta HC for his conduct. A recalcitrant Karnan had on February 15, 2016 stayed his transfer order. The apex court even asked the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court not to assign any judicial work to him.
The same day the apex court had suspended Justice Karnan's order. The Supreme Court also made it clear that all administrative and judicial orders passed by him after the issuance of the order of his transfer shall remain stayed.