10-16 July 2015 #766

Enter: Chief Justice Shrestha

Kalyan Shrestha has the challenging task of restoring the integrity of a tarnished Supreme Court, and protecting the separation of powers
Binita Dahal


Photo: Bikram Rai

Compared to his predecessor from whom he took over on Wednesday, Justice Kalyan Shrestha has had an untarnished 40-year career. This is a man known for his integrity and sense of fair play, and his appointment comes at a time when the Supreme Court has been dragged into controversy and disrepute.

When Chief Justice Ram Kumar Prasad Shah was appointed some nine months ago, he promised that he would respect the separation of powers and never compromise the independence of Judiciary. This was a legacy of the controversial appointment of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as Chairman of the Interim Election Government in 2013. But it was under Shah’s watch that the Supreme Court got embroiled last month in another tussle between the Legislature and the Judiciary with the interim order issued by the single bench of Justice Girish Chandra Lal on the 16-point agreement between four political parties.

Some of Shah’s other verdicts like the one on ex-crown princess Prerana Rajya Laxmi has been criticised for its lack of transparency even by other justices and the Nepal Bar Association. The case which was filed on January was hastily decided in four months, unprecedented in Nepal’s judicial history.  

His decision to appoint Deepak Timilsina as the IT adviser, a person who was fired by former Chief Justice Ram Prasad Shrestha was investigated by Himal Khabarpatrika two weeks ago. But the most damning blot was his acquittal of Yeshe Lama, a fake doctor from Humla who had embezzled millions from the American charity, Citta, to build a hospital in Simikot. The story has been doggedly pursued by Bhrikuti Rai of the Centre for Investigative Journalism for three years.

Shah also failed to appoint justices of the Supreme Court which has a massive backlog of cases despite saying time and again that it was his top priority. In the end, he blamed the Nepal Bar Association for not recommending its representatives to the Judicial Council.

Justice Shrestha’s foremost challenge now is to face the new constitution and its provisions related to Judiciary. Most provisions in the draft like a separate constitutional court and the reappointment of Justices after the promulgation of new constitution have always been criticised by the Judiciary.

The Constituent Assembly on Tuesday put the draft up to the general public for feedback, even though the full court comprised of all the justices of apex court had suggested to the CA that some of the provisions regarding the Judiciary be revoked.

This move has already been criticised by some former justices like Balaram KC, Bharat Bahadur Karki who have argued that the court can only give its view through writ petitions or unless asked by the Constituent Assembly itself. The full court’s suggestion also includes extending the retirement of judges to 70 years, cancelling reappointments, curtailing the CIAA’s (Center for Investigation of Abuse of Authority) right to investigate the justices after their retirement.

All these provisions are driven by the personal agenda of the justices, and send the wrong message to the public about the Judiciary. Despite his clean image, the new Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha is equally involved in backing these demands, and he will be under scrutiny during his tenure.

Justice Shrestha will have his plate full during the political transition. The written statement regarding the interim order given by Justice Lal on the 16-point agreement is likely to come up for review by a full bench which is likely to decide to scrap it.

When we met Justice Shrestha on Tuesday morning at his residence, he said: “I have a very short tenure as the Chief Justice, and people have many expectations. I cannot bring any drastic change but will try my best to restore the public trust in the Judiciary.”

Chief Justice Shrestha has established much precedence in cases involving human rights and women’s issues, and has a reputation for competence and decisiveness. On the other hand some people from legal fraternity argue that Shrestha may be influenced by the non-government sector with which he has been involved.  

But even if he can just start cleaning up the image of the Supreme Court as being a den of self-serving judges, he will have fulfilled a much-needed task.

@binitadahal

Read also:

Interim order and interim constitution, Binita Dahal

Getting away with (almost) anything, Bhrikuti Rai

Needless drama, Damakant Jayshi

Man in a hurry

First draft endorsed

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