4-10 March 2016 #798

Judicial match-fixing

By giving in to political pressure Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha has failed to uphold the integrity of the Judiciary
Binita Dahal

After months of dithering, the Judicial Council finally nominated 11 justices to the Supreme Court this week. Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha, who heads the council, nominated seven sitting judges from the Appellate Court and four senior advocates.

They are Dipak Kumar Karki, Kedar Chalise, Meera Khadka, Sharada Prasad Ghimire, Hari Krishna Karki, Biswombar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwor Khatiwada, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai, Anil Kumar Sinha, Prakash Raut and Sapana Pradhan Malla.

As per constitutional provisions, the senior-most Justice becomes the Chief Justice after the retirement of their predecessor. Which means Hari Krishna Karki, Bishwombar Prasad Shrestha, Prakash Raut and Sapana Pradhan Malla are next in line to be future Chief Justices.

This clearly shows that the members of the judicial council were very strategic in placing the nominees' names in order of seniority. It also shows that there has been political manipulation in selecting the names and ranking them. It is like match-fixing in the judiciary.

This is deadly serious as the politically affiliated nominees will give verdicts according to their political affiliation, thus continuing to undermine the judiciary and the rule of law.

The Judicial Council apparently recommended political figures for the first time. Sapana Pradhan Malla, though highly regarded as one of the most competent female lawyers of her generation, has already played the role as the parliament member from CPN-UML. She is a member of that political party.

This means the principle that appointments to the Supreme Court must be non political and not from political cadres has been flouted and creates a precedence for future appointments. What is even more ironic is that it is Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha, known for his integrity and professionalism, who made this decision under his watch.

Shrestha got to lead the Supreme Court at a time when its image had been tarnished by two of his predecessors, and there were high expectations on the part of the Bar and Bench from him to do better. His predecessor, Damodar Prasad Sharma, was criticised for recommending some controversial figures to the Apex Court, and the person he replaced, Justice Ram Kumar Prasad Sah, was also similarly tarnished.

Unfortunately, like them, Shrestha also gave in to political pressure. Many career judges and senior advocates who are in line for Chief Justice were seen lobbying to be appointed both in the Judiciary and political parties. It is an irony, and a sign of the times, that we have seen career judges visit offices of political parties to thank the leadership for recommending their name to the Judicial Council. The current list as in the past has been made with some vested interests from the JC.

Whatever precedence he set in many of the human rights and women’s issues will now be forgotten because of his politically motivated appointments. Shrestha failed to exercise impartiality and reward judges for their merit and integrity.

The Judicial Council has brought in two women, two Newars and a Madhesi, but has failed to make its nominations truly inclusive under guidelines of the new constitution. It has also nominated only people from the judicial profession and not those with academic backgrounds, civil servants and the Attorney General’s office. There are also no senior advocates from outside Kathmandu.

It was comparatively easy for Chief Justice Shrestha to take the decision as only the law minister was from the political side in the Council. But he failed to seize the opportunity.

The Supreme Court which has a massive backlog of cases is waiting for some qualified and capable justices who are willing to give justice to the people, not ones who have political or personal ambitions.

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