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  Opinion   Edit  11 May 2017  Find ways to rein in deviant judges

Find ways to rein in deviant judges

Published : May 11, 2017, 3:13 am IST
Updated : May 11, 2017, 6:42 am IST

The judiciary was in grave danger of descending to irretrievable levels of ridicule if it did not punish the rebel judge.

Justice C.S. Karnan (Photo: ANI)
 Justice C.S. Karnan (Photo: ANI)

Justice C.S. Karnan deserves his fate as the first judge to be sentenced to jail in India. He overstepped the bounds of proper behaviour on numerous occasions. Cornered by his increasingly bellicose behaviour, the Supreme Court had no option but to throw the rulebook after giving him every chance to express regret for his conduct ahead of his retirement. In directing that the renegade judge be jailed within the Calcutta high court’s jurisdiction, the seven-member bench may in effect be saving Mr Karnan from himself as his actions were getting too irrational to be explained away as a dalit raging against the system’s unfairness. Beyond rescuing the judge from himself, the judges were asserting the majesty of the judiciary so that no disgruntled judge may take recourse to such tactics ever again.

The judiciary was in grave danger of descending to irretrievable levels of ridicule if it did not punish the rebel judge, who was acting on the premise that a high court judge couldn’t be disciplined and could only be removed by Parliament. The rulebook had to be thrown at him after he dragged his fellow judges into scornful exchanges in public. Instead of pussyfooting around the issue after giving Mr Karnan every chance to retract, the bench may have relied on the Constitution’s Article 129, which gives ample scope for action on several counts, and specifically empowers the Supreme Court to punish for contempt of itself. This was no time to quibble over the niceties of how to act against a judge — and who else should have the authority to sit in judgment on high court judges than Supreme Court judges, who are also the Constitution’s custodians. It was important that the judiciary’s reputation, after getting dented, be restored by stern action after the likes of Markandey Katju, Soumitro Sen and   P.D. Dinakaran, among others, had wreaked sufficient havoc of late. The basic principles of a solemn institution like the court were being threatened by the judge from Tami Nadu, who can have little grouse about his career as he had risen in the ranks thanks to affirmative action. His imagined slights at the hands of fellow judges seem to have triggered the confrontation against the authority of the Supreme Court.

This is not the time or occasion to debate over finding an ideal system of appointing judges. A bad apple could have slipped through regardless of whether judges are appointed by a collegium or a commission. A way must be found to caution, discipline or even dismiss judges with a track record of errant behaviour. Impeachment is too far-fetched. A mechanism to handle errant judges must be devised to exist within the system, and it is up to legal eagles and eminent jurists to find a way.

Tags: c.s. karnan, supreme court, markandey katju