New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced a sitting judge, C.S. Karnan of the Calcutta high court, to six months of imprisonment, holding him guilty of contempt of court. He is the first serving high court judge to be sent to prison for contempt.

A seven-judge constitution bench headed by chief justice of India (CJI) J.S. Khehar directed the arrest of Karnan “forthwith" for declining to undergo medical tests to determine the state of his mental health.

“We are of the unanimous view that he is in contempt of the judicial process," the bench said.

The court had taken suo motu (on its own motion) cognizance of Karnan’s misconduct in accusing members of the judiciary of nepotism, casteism and corruption when he served as a judge in the Madras high court. He was subsequently transferred to the Calcutta high court.

On 1 March, the apex court had directed Karnan to undergo a mental health checkup, observing that he may not be fit to defend himself.

Karnan had written to various dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the CJI, the Union law minister and various sitting judges across high courts, making allegations of corruption against several sitting and retired judges in the country.

In March, the apex court had issued a bailable arrest warrant against Karnan for failing to personally appear before the court.

Karnan is set to retire from the Calcutta high court on 11 June, Press Trust of India reported. Senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, who intervened in the case, had asked the court in an earlier hearing to allow Karnan to retire with dignity.

The court barred media houses from publishing any statements/comments made by Karnan in the future and also restrained all courts and tribunals in the country from taking cognizance of any orders issued by the judge since the start of proceedings against him.

A senior advocate, who did not wish to be identified, said that in his view, the gag order applies only to this case and cannot be applied as a precedent.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said a ruling of contempt of court was not the remedy for misconduct by a judge.

“If at all a judge had to be removed for whatever ground, the matter must have been referred to Parliament for impeachment," she said.

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