Nepal’s judiciary debacle: Serious allegations are directed toward the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing has happened since.

Nepal’s judiciary has been witnessing continued clash and conflict. This time, the bench itself has been divided and polarized in favor of and against the Chief Justice. On Thursday, the court’s premises turned into a battleground. But political parties are not paying attention.

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 3 min.

Ignorance! 

This is what almost all of Nepal’s political party leaders are pretending in the ongoing debacle at the Supreme Court of Nepal. Only a few seem to care how costly it will be for the future of Nepal’s democracy, the sanctity of the judiciary itself, and the principle of separation of powers. 

Nepal’s Supreme Court is sharply divided and paralyzed with judges taking the unprecedented stand of boycotting their benches. The Nepal Bar Association (NBA) has also taken a similar stand. As a result, thousands of cases, as many as 30,000,  have been put on hold. 

The debacle, in the process, also has exposed malpractices ingrained in the judiciary. 

For days on end, the Supreme Court sitting Judges, some former Chief Justices, justices and advocates are calling for the immediate resignation of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, accusing him of being involved in collusion with political parties to secure ministerial berths for his relatives. This is the primary allegation but the list of other serious allegations goes long: bribery, corruption, abuse of power and authority, collusion with the executive body, so on, so forth.   A recent report shows  CJ Rana used to tamper with the process of the hearings of the cases and verdicts. 

[Related: Explainer: What is happening inside Nepal’s judiciary? Why is it difficult to correct the course? ]

Senior legal practitioners have all pointed a finger at CJ Rana for the crisis unfolding in the judiciary. According to Justice Balaram KC, the current state is the result of a series of wrongdoings committed by CJ Rana. 

Senior advocate Sambhu Thapa has accused Rana of mobilizing his brother to manipulate the cases. He even claims to have a call record to that effect as proof. 

Dangerous silence 

What is happening at the Supreme Court should have drawn the serious attention of the political actors followed by some actions for investigation. But political parties have shown indifference to the mess and mayhem and cries for the resignation of the Chief Justice, even as the calls for intervention from them are being raised. 

Political parties and top leaders have maintained strategic silence over the unfolding situation in the Supreme Court. Few leaders have made public comments, but with extreme caution.

Observers say this is actually what has emboldened the Chief Justice. 

Senior advocate Shree Hari Aryal, indicating the silence of political powers, said that those who want to put the judiciary and the judicial system in jeopardy are backing CJ Rana.

Advocates say the political parties should not see the conflict in the judiciary only as of the issue between the Supreme Court and Nepal Bar.  

“This is an issue that will have a huge consequence. It is the issue of the general public linked directly to justice delivery,” said Sabita Bhandari Baral, a senior advocate. 

“Silence on such a crucial issue is a  mark of their [leaders] incompetence and irresponsibility towards the public.” 

According to observers, the apparent lack of will among the political leaders to even investigate serious allegations of misconduct against the Chief Justice reflects poorly on their own commitment to justice and rule of law.

[Related: Editorial | Nepal’s judiciary in crisis: Collusion among the judiciary, executive and legislature must end to ensure reforms]

Precisely because of this, they argue that CJ Rana has made it clear that he will not bow down to the protests and pressure but is ready to face the constitutional process. 

This is a clear indication that CJ Rana enjoys support from most of the political leaders and he is sure that no political party will table an impeachment motion against him, a Supreme Court source told Nepal Live Today requesting not to be named.

Standoff remains 

In a rare scene, members of the Nepal Bar Association, on Thursday, demonstrated in the premises of the Supreme Court chanting slogans against the CJ, probably “the first time” in Nepal’s judicial history, and that too in this scale. 

The protestors [advocates] chanted slogans: ‘Leader of corruption, rent-seekers and goons,’ ‘corrupt CJ, resign!’ ‘Leader of rent-seekers, resign!,’ ‘Leader of goons, resign!’.

The protest was followed by a scuffle as police tried to stop advocates from protesting in the premises of the Apex Court. As many as six legal practitioners including Nepal Bar Association General Secretary Lila Mani Poudel were injured.

The Bar, the umbrella organization of legal practitioners, has made the CJ’s resignation a precondition for the smooth operation of the court, while CJ Rana is adamant on not resigning. 

The recent incidents have exposed the dark sides of the vital state organs like the judiciary and the executive and ingrained collusion between them. 

The reputation of the judiciary is at risk due to the recent debacle and serious charges against the Chief Justice. But the question is not about a person but about reforms of the system, said senior advocate Sabita Bhandari Baral. 

“Will we be able to fix it? If yes, by when? This is the crux of the matter,” she said.

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