We were hoping that our cases that are pending would be resolved now that the courts have resumed after the pandemic lockdown, but the protest against the Chief Justice has further delayed our cases and prevented us from getting justice”. This is exactly the voice of several people who are eagerly waiting for their cases to be heard in the courts. The institutionalisation of democracy in Nepal seems to be a never ending process. This process has often created situations that pose hurdles in the day to day lives of the citizens, while the actors creating such situations often get off scot-free.
The chief justice of the supreme court of any country all over the world presides over the court's public sessions and also presides over its private conferences, where the justices decide what cases to hear and how to vote on the cases they have heard. Perhaps the chief justice's greatest power is the power to decide who writes the court's majority opinion.
The current Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana was applauded for his recent historic decision to reinstate the parliament thus ending the internal bickering among leaders of the ruling political party. His decision was seen as a life saver for Nepal as it gave an outlet to the opposition to lead the country and end the hindrances caused in running the country. His decision had also specified that Sher Bahadur Deuba should lead the country as Prime Minister and form a coalition government. There were controversies on why the name of a certain individual was mentioned, but in general the people of the country were hoping that there would be relief and the country would move forward and focus on the vaccination against COVID-19 and help the people alleviate the poverty that the people were facing during the pandemic.
Public protest However, Rana has not been able to bask long in this glory of reinstating the cabinet because the country is now resonating with a “Go Rana” echo. Even before his appointment as a Chief Justice in Nepal, there were reports in the media and debates in the intellectual circle on whether he was suitable to be placed in that seat. Following the formation of new government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Chief Justice Cholendra JB Rana was accused of bargaining for the appointment of his brother-in-law Gajendra Hamal as the minister in the news cabinet by influencing the Prime Minister. Hamal had to resign two days after taking oath because there was uproar on how and why he was appointed. The lauded Chief Justice Rana was suddenly facing a dark controversy, and his own fraternity, including former Chief Justices, legal practitioners and civil societies, have now staged a county-wide protest asking for his resignation.
Nepal’s constitution envisions an impartial judiciary to be independent from other branches of the government. Therefore, Rana’s alleged bargain in the executive branch of the government breaches the provisions of the constitution. Chief Justice Rana has been accused of several other incidents including his involvement in nomination and appointment of his close associates in the Constitutional Council. A writ was filed against him and other members of the Constitutional Council regarding this issue. He has also been accused of maneuvering cases and designating benches. A report led by Justice Hari Krishna Karki pointed out the issues of “bench shopping”- a term used to describe the unscrupulous practice of selecting benches through middlemen to secure a favorable order.
With several such cases against the chief justice surfacing, the Supreme Court judges decided to boycott the full court meetings called by him. Several judges started boycotting benches. The Supreme Court Bar association staged protests and there were incidents when they tried to stop the chief judge from entering the Supreme Court. The media in Nepal have aptly exposed these never ending scandals that have surfaced repeatedly. These scandals have exposed the political bickering among the top leaders, and the power struggle of elected leaders has only highlighted the petty personal interests of the political leaders which are mired in corruption. The Nepali people are wondering if these very people they have elected are the right ones who will help them institutionalise democracy on a rules-based system and maintain law and order in the county.
On Monday 22nd November, the Nepal Bar Association submitted a letter to the Speaker of the House, the Chairperson of the National Council, and all political parties represented in the federal parliament to take action against the Chief Justice based on 17 different points that they have listed there. The Nepal Bar Association has been staging the ’Go Chief Justice’ movement since the last two months.
Enough is enough During the past few decades Nepal often witnessed the people’s movements against the ruling governments. Now this protest to oust the Chief Judge, where the whole legal fraternity has been divided into two factions, has deprived the people who have pending cases from getting justice. Whether it is the judiciary or the executive of the government stalling justice, development, and progress for the people of Nepal, it is now time to say enough is enough and ask the responsible people to be held accountable those who are responsible for all the inconveniences caused to the people who have suffered economically, physically and mentally.
Who are responsible for these people who have been suffering from the stalling of the courts or dysfunction of the government’s executive department which keeps breaking governments and going to the streets against each other rather than focusing on developing a proper strategic development course for the country?
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist. email@example.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)