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Judge behind bars

Editorial |

It would be a case of justice delayed, though not entirely denied. Former High Court judge CS Karnan has eventually found himself behind bars in the Presidency Jail, Kolkata, later taken to hospital ~ and yet another plea for suspending his sentence was rejected by a two-member Bench of the apex court.

The vacation Bench ruled that it would not entertain any review of the orders of a seven-member Bench that had convicted Karnan of contempt of court, awarded him a six-month jail term. Ostensibly “justice” has been done, but questions will linger about how he managed to evade arrest for over five weeks, so by the time he was traced and taken into custody near Coimbatore he had retired ~ which meant that he was not a sitting judge when the law caught up with him.

Also lingering will be suspicions that the law-enforcing agencies went deliberately slow, and the highest judiciary did not pressure the police into action to avert the ignominy of a judge in office being incarcerated.

The treatment he receives in jail will be carefully monitored (he was kept overnight in an airport guest house at Chennai before being flown to Kolkata), for his conduct leading to, and after his arrest, did not earn him any “special consideration”.

This is not to suggest he be subjected to customary “police courtesies”, only to emphasise that all are supposedly equal before the law. It is possible that at a subsequent stage his case may be reviewed: he is entitled to that, provided similar avenues of redress are open to others.

And the retirement of the Chief Justice, who presided over the sevenjudge Bench, must not impact any further action that may be initiated on Karnan’s behalf. To dwell upon the incidents leading to Karnan’s conviction and sentence would be to reopen old wounds, yet to gloss over or forget all that happened would be to inflict an indelible smear on the institution of the judiciary.

For if a High Court judge could so brazenly defy the apex court there could be more of the same, or worse, from those who hardly respected the judiciary to begin with. Karnan’s, quite clearly, developed into a “test case” ~ a test which some would insist saw the judiciary failing itself.

Imposing a gag order after his conviction could lend itself to interpretation as a bid to prevent ugly “home truths” from reaching the public domain.

And will that prevent him from “spilling the beans” once he serves out his sentence?

At a point in time when there is such widespread criticism of judicial overreach etc, Karnan’s contention of caste-discrimination against him only adds to prevailing embarrassment.

Could the reality be that “Their Lordships” are not all they crank themselves up to be?