Nepal dispatches: Chief justice faces calls for resignation after allegations of influence – JURIST – News
An unprecedented crisis recently hit Nepal’s highest court, with some members of the country’s legal fraternity calling for the chief justice’s resignation amid a series of controversies. Nepalese law student Smriti Pantha from the Faculty of Law of the University of Kathmandu reports this exclusive report for JURIST of Kathmandu.
The Chief Justice of Nepal, Cholendra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana has recently been embroiled in multiple controversies. Judge Rana was lauded as a savior for reestablishing parliament a few months ago, but now faces sordid allegations. Former chief justices, judges, legal practitioners and civil society have stepped up pressure on Rana to tell the truth about the allegations against him.
Rana’s deal for a cabinet share with the executive was the most recent allegation against him. Last month it was called for his role by influencing the enthronement of his brother-in-law, Gajendra Hamal, into the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The share in the Cabinet was deducted as a consideration for helping Deuba to become Prime Minister. Stuck in this controversy, Hamal resigned within two days of his induction. However, Rana denied pushing Hamal’s appointment as minister.
This incident not only tarnished Rana’s reputation, but also cast doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Nepalese justice system that the Constitution envisaged in its preamble. The Constitution imposes certain checks and balances by defining the judiciary as separate and independent from other branches of government. Rana’s involvement in negotiating on the one hand in the executive branch breaks this barrier between branches, thereby weakening said checks and balances.
The other allegation against the President of the Supreme Court concerned his involvement in the work of the Constitutional Council appointment and appointment of close associates in February and June. A quo-guaranteed a summons was filed against him and other members of the Constitutional Council for the appointment of these members under questionable circumstances. However, there were several delays in getting to even the first hearing on the matter. In particular, Rana would have tried to preside over this case before the constitutional bench although he himself is a defendant.
If this allegation is true, it would be a serious violation of the principle of nemo judex in causa sua — that is to say no one should be appointed a judge in their own case. On the other hand, constitutional appointments must be heard by the constitutional bench, which article 137 (1) of the Constitution dictates that it should be headed by the Chief Justice. So the confusion rests on whether Rana should hear this particular case. Nonetheless, Rana was arraigned for her failure to take the lead in this matter and reach an appropriate resolution.
A third allegation against Rana is that he passed on the case of Ranjan Prasad Koirala, a former Deputy Inspector General of the Nepal Armed Police Force, who was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment. Rana was denounced for reducing Koirala’s sentence by 11 years. After a public outcry, Rana agreed to review the decision, but no action has been taken in this regard as of yet, underscoring his potential refusal to reconsider the decision.
The final allegation against Rana is her involvement in the handling of affairs and the designation of the benches. A report from a committee headed by Judge Hari Krishna Karki highlighted the issue of “bench shopping” – a term used to describe the unscrupulous practice of selecting benches through middlemen to obtain a favorable order. To remedy this irregularity, the committee suggested adopting a system of drawing lots to designate the benches. Although Rana said publicly in August that he would introduce such a system, he has taken no action in this regard so far.
In the wake of the allegations, pressure for Rana to resign reached a critical point last week, with other Supreme Court justices ruling to boycott a plenary meeting called by Rana. However, the chief justice initially indicated that he would not resign, noting that he would follow appropriate constitutional procedures. Nepalese political parties have chosen to remain silent on this matter and do not appear to intend to get involved in matters of the highest jurisdiction.
The other Supreme Court justices are boycotting the benches and holding meetings to find a way out of this mess and defend the sanctity of the judiciary. This has affected hearings for a week now, hampering public access to justice. No case had been heard since last week. However, the judges decided to hear the cases from Wednesday, with Rana suggesting a graceful exit from this impasse. Rana further acceded to requests from other judges not to hear the cases.
That the spearhead of justice is involved in these many controversies is a stain on the prestige and reliability of justice. To restore the justice system from this deplorable state, the aforementioned allegations must be investigated and a transparent report made public. The judiciary must identify its shortcomings and propose immediate action plans.