In an unprecedented development, a Bench of Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice R. Banumathi was informed by the Madras High Court that its sitting judge, Justice Karnan, has passed a “ suo motu judicial order” ‘staying’ the Chief Justice of India’s recommendation to transfer him.
Justice C. S. Karnan of the Madras High Court ‘stayed’ the Chief Justice of India’s proposal to transfer him to the Calcutta High Court, forcing the Supreme Court to authorise a freeze on his functions as a judge.
The Supreme Court however has restrained a sitting High Court judge from issuing any judicial order — suo motu or otherwise — and imposed a blanket stay on all directions issued by him after February 12 when the Collegium moved to transfer him.
The apex court was compelled to issue the unusual order after Madras High Court judge Justice C S Karnan suo motu “stayed” his transfer order, issued by the Chief Justice of India T S Thakur.
Justice Karnan also sought a response from the CJI regarding his transfer while asking him “not to interfere” with his jurisdiction. Justice Karnan questioned the authority of the CJI as the head of the Collegium to issue transfer orders for “better administration.”
All Supreme Court and high court judges are empowered under the Constitution to issue suo motu orders. The Supreme Court and the CJI exercise administrative authority over the high courts. However, a high court or an apex court judge can be removed only through impeachment by Parliament and not through any administrative or judicial order.
On Monday, a bench of Justices J S Khehar and R Banumathi had initially allowed the Madras High Court chief justice to stop assigning any judicial work to Justice Karnan in view of his transfer to Kolkata. The bench had taken into account an affidavit filed by the registrar of the high court, stating Justice Karnan shouted and hurled the “choicest of abuses” at him when he went to inform the judge about the transfer.
In his order, Justice Karnan referred to a judgment by a nine-judge Supreme Court bench in 1993, better known as Second judges case, to hold that the CJI’s proposal of transfer goes against this judgement.
Justice Karnan sent a copy of the judicial order to the President, Prime Minister, Union Law Minister and to other political leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati, as well as National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.