Judiciary Under Scanner
The country’s judiciary has attracted widespread attention lately, albeit for different wrong reasons. The judges, justices and even the chief justices have come under wider public scrutiny for their performance as the purveyor and vanguard of country’s laws. The judges and justices have drawn flak for their “unusual” delivery of sentences on the sensitive matters. Lately, the Supreme Court justices delivered verdicts related to different corporate houses and business persons who were accused of evasion of taxes running into billions of rupees. The SC verdicts have directly or indirectly had helped the business houses, conglomerates and businessmen to walk free paying nominal fines or taxes to the government. In a corruption case that involved the suspended director of the Inland Revenue Department, the SC verdict helped the accused to walk away scot-free, paying nominal bail money.
All these tax evasion and corruption cases had attracted the attention of the people and media, which had written many news, views and articles regarding these cases creating opinion against the perpetrators involved in these cases. According to the prevailing common sense, many in the nation thought that the culprits and perpetrators would receive appropriate and adequate legal treatment from the judges and justices looking into the case. Some of the verdicts delivered on these cases however took everyone in the nation by surprise, compelling them to raise questions over the sagacity and honesty of the judges and justices and sanctity of the courts.
While several of us were in a shock over the unusual verdicts from the Supreme Court justices on the highly sensitive cases of tax evasion and corruption, another drama that involved the then Supreme Court Chief Justice started unfolding. The controversy over the birth date had forced the then Supreme Court Justice Gopal Parajuli to step down but not before dragging the whole sanctity of the Supreme Court into question. The controversy over Parajuli’s birth date had raged on soon after he was challenged by seasoned campaigner Dr. Govind KC after his “controversial” verdict that reinstated the then disgraced Teaching Hospital chief.
The showdown between Dr. KC and Parajuli took an unusual turn when the former openly called the latter a corrupt chief justice and asked for his resignation. The Supreme Court then had hit back by slapping a contempt of court charge against Dr. KC, who was immediately put behind bars for committing the same crime. While Dr. KC was dragged into the court for the contempt case, Parajuli took legal action against the Kantipur Media Group for writing news about his dubious birth date. All these episodes only brought disrepute to Parajuli and to the court. The incident took another interesting turn when the secretary of the Judicial Council, which was then headed by Parajuli himself, sent a letter telling Parajuli that his tenure had ended seven months earlier as per his original birth date.
Initially, Parajuli tried with all his might to resist the letter, but he tendered his resignation after facing the alleged “threat” that if he did not resign then he might have to face impeachment motion in the Parliament.
Following the brouhaha over the inept verdicts and the unceremonious exit of the then chief justice, talks are now doing rounds that judges and justices of the country should be continuously and closely scrutinised for their performance while delivering verdicts or sentences on the cases that are highly sensitive in nature. Plans are now envisaged by the Ministry of Law to introduce a law that is aimed at binding all judges, justices and chief justices to the a law that might stop them from engaging in unsavoury legal practice. As per the would-be law, they will have to declare their property during when they remain in their post and for during some certain years after they receive retirements. A close look at their property by the anti-graft body may discourage them to involve in corrupt practice such as “bench shopping.”
Charges of corruption and of biased verdicts against the judges and justices are not new and all accusations have taken root in the country’s legal system because there is no strong law or regulation that would oblige them for appropriate behaviours which is expected from the judges and justices of the country. In the meantime, the political meddling in the appointment of the SC justices is to be partially blamed for all the controversies in which the Supreme and other courts are often found involved. Because of the backing of the political parties, the judges and justices feel free in involving in practices that appear inappropriate and against their positions. The scourge of “political sharing” while appointing the judges and justices needs to be stopped to restore the reputation of the now maligned nation’s judiciary.
Also, the political parties, leaders and ministers must not make needless meddling in the courts. Sometimes such interference can prove costly for the political parties and leaders. For example, the Nepali Congress suffered defeat in the elections as its popularity had plummeted partially because the then Congress-led government handled the issue pertaining to the then Chief Justice Sushila Karki quite inadequately. Instead of leaving free Karki, who had been gaining popularity for several of her verdicts against the corrupt officials and other sensitive cases, the Nepali Congress went on impeaching her, which led to her automatic suspension. This has made Nepali Congress quite unpopular among the voters, especially the swing voters, during the general elections. The impeachment motion against Karki is one of many reasons that led to the defeat of Congress in the general elections.
Meanwhile, the judges and justices sometimes are found to be “guilty” of expressing themselves their political affiliation. Few years ago, a group of justices visited CPN-UML office to show their gratitude to the UML leaders for their appointment. Such action on the part of the justices and judges raises suspicion on their honesty and ability to perform impartially.
In the final analysis, one is certain that at present the judiciary, which requires to remain independent and free of any partiality, has attracted negative comments from the common people, lawyers, media and many others, thanks to the performances of sitting judges and justices in delivering sentences and also for their involvement in controversial incidents. The judiciary is indeed an important cog in the wheel of country’s democratic values and principle. It is an important entity to maintain the principle of separation of powers in a fine balance with the parliament and the executive. If such an important entity gets embroiled in controversies, then it can only raise our suspicion over its viability as the purveyor of our legal system and the ultimate vanguard of our constititution.