Friday, 3 December, 2021

Standoff At SC Urgency To Give An Outlet

Standoff At SC Urgency To Give An Outlet

Narayan Upadhyay

Even as agitating Supreme Court judges are hell-bent on ousting the Chief Justice, the latter has so far shown his tenacity to stay, declaring the demand for his resignation is unlawful. The standoff at the Supreme Court has yet to see a desirable end, although protesting judges and lawyers are successful in clipping the wing of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana. A few days ago, a full-court of agitating judges revised regulations and directives and approved a new system to assign cases to Supreme Court benches through lotteries. The new system has effectively ended the existing practice of the Chief Justice assigning cases to benches to hear them as per his will.

Earlier, charges were hurled against CJ Rana that his privilege in granting court cases to certain benches was the reason he dabbled in fixing the outcome of the cases of his interests. Judges and lawyers accuse him of hiring and deploying agents and middlemen who used to enjoy a free run at the Supreme Court in helping fix results. Because of this, the lawyers would guess which side the verdict of many cases would go. Judges, lawyers, media and ordinary people call into question CJ's authority to assign court cases to benches that only exposed his unjust conduct and shady ways.

Improper acts
A long list of dubious verdicts for which CJ Rana came under fire indicates his improper acts of fixing cases. Many accuse him of commuting the life sentence of former APF DIG Ranjan Koirala, a proven guilty of murdering his wife. Further, he issued a verdict in favour of his alleged relative in a case related to public land in the Birgunj area. Under his tutelage, the SC bench decided that the property of the Nepal Trust to the daughter of the former King Gyanendra. 

He dismissed a writ-petition submitted against the sale of Juddha Match Factory land. Besides these cases, his involvement in issuing the verdict of lowering taxes running in millions of rupees that benefitted NCell did not do well for his reputation. He also attracted widespread criticism as some of his close confidant judges split the Nepal Communist Party and became part of Baluwatar land fraud and several other major court cases. He drew ire for overseeing a petition in which he was a party. When former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli made several constitutional council appointments through an ordinance, he too found his share of appointees. However, he kept deferring the hearing on the petition registered at the top court against such appointments.

All the above incidents remained obscure and CJ Rana had his ways in the apex court affairs. However, the allegations that he sought a share in the cabinet expansion in which one of his relatives was appointed minister (who later resigned following pressure) compelling SC judges to unite against Rana's improper conduct that brought disrepute to the country's judiciary. People blamed him for mobilising hoodlums and supporters against agitating lawyers. In the meantime, numerous armed security personnel deployed to the SC premises to thwart the lawyers' protest have only aggravated the current stalemate.

Now, as the SC judges, Nepal Bar Association and its member associations across the country and several others made a clarion call for Rana's departure, there is all possibility that Rana would seek a graceful exit so that his image would not receive further dent. As the agitation against the CJ peaked in recent times, political parties, which maintained a deafening silence over the issue until a few days ago, had no option but to prepare their point of view on the SC standoff clear to the public. The ruling coalition parties earlier asked the SC, CJ and justices to find a solution to the problems.

However, the long impasse that has created hindrances in day-to-day affairs in courts is likely to force the parties to take a call on the issue. The parties remain undecided over the standoff because they fear attracting condemnation for 'interfering in SC affairs.' If they prefer to register an impeachment motion against the CJ, they lack sufficient numbers to get the motion endorsed by the House. For all their hesitancy, the coalition parties must now feel the urgency to provide an exit from the ongoing deadlock at the apex court. What they can do is that they can persuade CJ Rana to tender his resignation. It is a rational way to end the complication and save Rana from plunging into the morass of unpopularity. The same could help bring the country's legal system, halted for over a month following lawyers and SC judges’ agitation, back on track.

Positive shifts
All these, however, depend on how Rana would respond to the parties' call. If he continues to show his stiff posture, the judges will ostracise him further. He can continue in his chair for a full tenure, but not without drawing fires from several quarters. The new system of conducting court trials by drawing lotteries and positive shifts in SC affairs should inspire everyone involved to purge our judiciary from all of present vices. Our political parties should also engage in the cleansing operation, by helping address all issues confronted by the country's judiciary, the backbone of our democracy. 

The legal procedures, regulations and directives should be prepared in such a way that no future chief justices, judges, their cronies or intermediaries in the Supreme Court should have a free hand in fixing the outcome of any case. The land of law should take its own course and the judicial system should function fairly and transparently for the sake of our judiciary that must have a squeaky-clean image. Our judiciary must remain a vibrant force to maintain checks and balances on two other pillars of democracy - the Executive and the Legislative.

(Upadhyay is the managing editor of The Rising Nepal.