Judges Under Scanner
The Parliamentary Hearing Committee (PHC) recently spurned the elevation of Acting Chief Justice Deepak Kumar Joshi to the post of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Dominated by the lawmakers from the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), the hearing committee had raised the issue of Joshi’s ‘controversial’ academic and birth certificates as well as some of the verdicts Joshi had delivered in his capacity of Supreme Court judge.
In the meantime, his ‘ lacklustre’ and ‘irresponsive’ response to the queries of the PHC members during the hearing on his candidacy as chief justice had irked majority of the ruling party lawmakers, ultimately resulting in the rejection of his candidacy as chief justice. This is probably the first time since the inception of the PHC that a senior most Supreme Court judge failed to become chief justice due to ‘ unexpected’ act of denial from the majority of PHC member to elevate him to the coveted post. As a result, Joshi has gone on leave while another senior most judge has assumed the duty of acting chief justice.
The latest incident has once again exposed the weaknesses and shortcomings in Supreme Court judges. Earlier, a sitting Chief Justice was forced to quit over the raging controversy regarding his academic and birth certificates. Some of the verdicts which he had delivered on highly sensitive cases had also left many wide eyed. The then Chief Justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli had to quit after a raucous was raised over his birth certificate while his academic certificate indicated that he had not properly graduated his School Leaving Certificate level examination while his citizenship certificate did not mention his birth date accurately, creating a suspicion over his actual date of retirement.
Apart from drawing criticism for having controversial academic and birth certificates, many of the judges have come under scanner for their controversial rulings on highly sensitive cases. The judges have been found involved in delivering verdicts that have left many in the country quite surprised, while many other were compelled to raise the question of the calibre and motive of the judges behind giving their controversial rulings.
The ‘unexpected’ verdicts of many of the judges have often been a matter of debate in Nepalese media, intellectual and among the lawyers. In recent times, the verdicts delivered in the cases involving the bribery and embezzlement of Director General of Inland Chuda Mani Sharma, Ncell tax evasion case alleged ownership of public land in a person’s name as well as many other highly sensitive cases have often been the reasons that have brought the calibre and integrity of the judges into question.
Despite all this, the tradition of recommending senior most sitting judge to the post of the chief justice by the Judicial Council has still been given continuity over the past several years. Ever since the system of parliamentary hearing was put in place to give the final seal on the name of the chief justice, no candidate before Acting Chief Justice Joshi was denied to assume the topmost post in the country’s judiciary.
In the meantime, the PHC’s rejection to elevate Joshi to the chief justice’s post has riled the main opposition to the core. The PHC, headed by Laxman Lal Karna, a lawmaker from Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and dominated by the ruling CPN, could not take unanimous decision to reject Joshi as next chief justice because of the opposition from the Nepali Congress lawmakers. Subsequently, the decision to dismiss the Joshi as next chief justice was taken through a vote in which all ten ruling party lawmakers cast their vote against Joshi’s candidacy while four Nepali Congress lawmakers boycotted the vote.
The Nepali Congress later argued that the PHC is not the right body to look into the academic and birth certificates of any candidate aspiring to be the chief justice. The Congress further questioned that if the Acting Chief Justice Joshi was guilty of possessing controversial certificates, then why the Judicial Council did recommended his name for the PHC. While raising its accusing finger towards Judicial Council, headed by Prime Minister, in recommending Joshi, the main opposition has raised fear that the recent move against Acting Chief Justice was actually aimed at intimidating the sitting judges of the Supreme Court and other courts.
The main opposition, Nepali Congress, has also termed the PHC decision a step to undermine the independence of the nation judiciary. As he the PHC’s move has put a break on the long tradition of endorsing the chief justice as recommended by the Judicial Council, the PHC decision is termed a step towards curbing the independence of the nation’s judiciary which in turn has left a big question on the principle of separation of power. While lambasting the ruling CPN, the Congress also criticised the government for sending warning to Joshi that if he continued to press ahead for his candidacy for chief justice, he would face impeachment motion in the parliament.
All these incidents hint that the Nepalese judiciary is passing through a very rough period. The judges in the Supreme Court, high courts and other lower courts have in recent times drawn flak for allowing the courts to be a playground for “middlemen or brokers” who are frequently accused of being a link between the alleged criminals and judges and who make ‘setting’ the cases in favour of the accused and criminals.
The judges of these courts are often accused of being corrupt. Many independent media and members of the civil society often urge the authority to introduce a strong provision to probe into the assets of the judges of allcourts with a view to discourage them to involve in unethical practices. In the meantime, the government must bring forth other measures through which the authority would strongly scrutinise not only the academic and other documents of the judges working in the various courts but would keep a close eye on verdicts they deliver on the highly sensitive cases that have all the attention of the nation. While doing so, the government must be aware of the sanctity of judiciary and therefore must not try to interfere in the affairs of judiciary.