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Indian Case Summary

Justice C.S. Karnan vs The Honourable Supreme Court Of … on 23 August, 2017 – Case Summary

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In the case of Justice C.S. Karnan vs The Honourable Supreme Court of India on 23 August 2017, a significant legal dispute unfolded that raised questions about the principles of natural justice, the constitutionality of certain sections of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High Courts in India.

Facts of the Case

Justice C.S. Karnan, a former Judge of the High Court of Calcutta, was convicted for criminal contempt of court by a seven Judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India and sentenced to six months imprisonment. The proceedings against Justice Karnan began on 8th February 2017 when the Supreme Court, taking note of correspondence addressed by Justice Karnan to high judicial authorities, instituted suo motu contempt against him. The court issued a notice to Justice Karnan to show cause as to why proceedings should not be initiated against him and directed him to remain personally present in court on the next date of hearing.

Despite several opportunities given by the court for Justice Karnan to respond to the allegations against him, he failed to appear in person or through a representative. Instead, he sent a fax seeking a meeting with the Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court to discuss administrative issues. The court found this response insufficient and issued bailable warrants against Justice Karnan.

Issues Raised

Justice Karnan challenged the proceedings against him, arguing that they were unconstitutional and void as they violated principles of natural justice. He also contended that certain sections of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, were unconstitutional as they violated Articles 14, 19, 20, and 21 of the Constitution of India. Furthermore, he argued that the Supreme Court and the High Courts fall within the ambit of the word “State” as defined in Article 12 of the Constitution.

Court’s Observations

The court noted that the proceedings against Justice Karnan were judicial in nature and initiated suo motu by the court. It also observed that Justice Karnan had not filed or challenged the detailed order passed by the Supreme Court recording his conviction and sentence.

The court referred to previous judgments, including Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra & Anr. and Riju Prasad Sarma & Ors. v. State of Assam & Ors., which held that the judgments of the High Court and the Supreme Court cannot be subjected to writ jurisdiction and that judiciary cannot be a State under Article 12.

The court also noted that Justice Karnan had an efficacious alternate remedy available to him by way of an appeal prescribed under the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, which he failed to invoke.


The case of Justice C.S. Karnan vs The Honourable Supreme Court of India is a landmark case that underscores the importance of judicial discipline and restraint. It also highlights the sanctity of the judicial process and the need for adherence to principles of natural justice. The case serves as a reminder that the judiciary, while independent, is also accountable and subject to the rule of law.