Lunatic Judge Karnan

Retired Justice Prafulla Kumar Misra took over as Lokayukta of Goa on 28.04.2016. The post of Lokayukta was lying vacant since 17.10.2013. No sooner he took charge, Justice Misra directed Director of Tourism to stop all further payments to beach-cleaning contractors. Not stopping there, Lokayukta ordered a stay on electricity contracts worth Rs. 328 Crores following a complaint from Congress alleging irregularities in tendering process. The above instances prove, Justice Misra is no mug with the bat and he means business.

7 years ago, he was 1 of 3 Madras High Court Judges who were part of the Collegium that recommended Justice C.S. Karnan’s appointment. Justice A.K. Ganguly, then Chief Justice, and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya were the 2 others.


The Attorney General had cited in course of his arguments in #NJAC, the instance of a ‘tweeting Judge‘, in the habit of tweeting his views, after he had retired. The AG said too, ‘a clear example of opaqueness and bad decision was the appointment of the 59-year old Sister of a CJI to Calcutta High Court.

No criticism was as scalding as RamJet calling Judge Karnan a ‘lunatic’, recently.

“I am sorry to tell you, I am convinced you have lost your mind. Your behavior is of a lunatic and some day that may be the only defense available to you though with no bright chance of success.”


The word ‘lunatic’ originally referred to a kind of insanity that recurred according to the cycles of the moon [Late Latin ‘lunaticus (‘moon-struck’) from Latin ‘luna (moon’)].

In the first known book devoted to English law on madness, written for a lay audience by John Brydall in 1700, the legal status non compos mentis comprised three categories: ‘natural fools’ (those born with mental defect); ‘mad-folk’ (those who had lost their mental faculties) and ‘lunatick persons’. The first statutory provision in England specifically for the mentally disturbed was The Vagrancy Act of 1744, previous Acts having treated the insane no differently from vagabonds. The Act encompassed both permanently and monthly insane:

“It shall and may be lawful for any two or more Justices of the Peace where such lunatic or mad person shall be found, by warrant under their hands and seals, directed to the Constables, Churchwardens and Overseers of the poor of such Parish, Town or Place, to cause such persons to be apprehended and kept safely locked up in some secure place as such Justices shall appoint; and (if such Justice find it necessary) to be there chained.”

The notion of lunar influence was reinforced in the conceptualization of madness by Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676), whose History of Pleas of the Crown, published 60 years after his death, described ‘permanent’ and ‘interpolating’ dementia. He explained:

“Latter is that which is usually called lunacy, for the moon hath a great influence in all diseases of the brain, especially in this kind of dementia; such persons, commonly, in the full and change of the moon, especially about the equinoxes and summer solstice, are usually in the height of their distemper.”

Throughout the British Empire, where care and control of all mentally incapacitated persons were covered by ‘lunacy’ laws, the concept of lunar influence was preserved by institutionalized misnomer. 19th century jurisprudence was skeptical of the concept, as illustrated by the case of Charles Hyde, a laborer, who pleaded, his awful crimes were provoked by the phases of the moon. His defence fell on deaf ears and he was jailed. But, he inspired the 1886 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson: Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.


Lunatic Fringe‘ (1913) apparently was coined by U.S. Politician Theodore Roosevelt.

“Then, among the wise and high-minded people who in self-respecting and genuine fashion strive earnestly for peace, there are foolish fanatics always to be found in such a movement and always discrediting it – the men who form the lunatic fringe in all reform movements.”


Justice Misra did not even know ‘lunatic’ Justice Karnan while recommending him for appointment.

“I am extremely sorry that I was part of the Collegium that recommended such a name. It was Justice Ganguly who suggested his name. I said that I do not know him and he replied that he (Justice Karnan) is on the panel of the Central Government Counsel.”

Justice Ganguly admitted to a ‘soft corner‘.

“He is otherwise not a bad person. He’s a fairly good man. I don’t know why he is doing all sorts of things. I have a soft corner for him. I still feel, he is misled and misguided. I am sure he is a man with good intentions.”


Earlier in time, Justice Misra had confirmed Karunanidhi was indeed successful in packing Madras High Court with his ‘chamchas‘.

“Similarly, when I had opposed the appointment of another Judge, even that candidate was confirmed as a full-fledged Judge and later transferred to another High Court. My views on that Judge came true when we saw his subsequent Judgments in several cases including granting of bail in the Satyam case on so called medical grounds.” 

The Judge mentioned by him is Justice Raja Elango, currently a Sitting Judge at Andhra Pradesh High Court.
Before his swearing-in and after the warrant of appointment had been issued, he called on Karunanidhi in the company of another nominee, Justice C T Selvam. The photograph of that momentous meeting was brazenly released through the State Information Department.
Elango 2.jpg
When Justice C.S. Karnan was appointed as an Additional Judge of Madras High Court in 2009, last word in his appointment belonged to CJI K.G. Balakrishnan.
Last Word

“There was no way I could have known about Justice Karnan. We have no such mechanism (in Supreme Court). We get recommendations from High Court concerned. Chief Justices propose the names and we go by that. I did not make any specific inquiry about him.”

On 16th March, 2017 when the moon was 89% visible, Justice Karnan sent out this letter: