Supreme offenceChief Justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli’s interim order on Sunday on a contempt of court case filed against Kantipur daily has raised some serious questions about his integrity and his ability to discharge justice independently.
Chief Justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli’s interim order on Sunday on a contempt of court case filed against Kantipur daily has raised some serious questions about his integrity and his ability to discharge justice independently. The order could set a dangerous precedent in muzzling freedom of expression enshrined in the country’s democratic constitution.
In a clear case of ‘pre-censorship’, the bench of CJ Parajuli has called on the Press Council Nepal, a government appointed body with oversight authority over the press, to stop publication of news against him. This contravenes with the letter and spirit of unconditioned press freedom in the constitution and instead puts prior restriction on publication or broadcast of news, compromising on the very fundamental of a free press.
Several media outlets, including Kantipur daily, have been reporting the controversy over the date of birth of CJ Parajuli, whose official documents have shown five different birth dates. The SC in its order on Sunday broadly stated that “the defendant has violated law and constitution by publishing misleading news that defamed court, justices and chief justice.”The news in question were never a broad commentary about the Supreme Court, or its justices. It was particularly about the CJ and that his date of birth. The SC order, however, neither offers to explain what the CJ’s correct date of birth is and why his official papers have so many inconsistencies.
Yet another major compromise has been made by the CJ in the Kantipur case. When a Public Interest Litigation on contempt of court was filed against the paper for its reporting on the CJ’s controversial birth certificates, the principle of natural justice would demand that he stayed away from the case that involved him. The CJ, instead, decided to ignore issues of conflict of interest and perceived conflict of interest and put himself in the one-member bench that heard the case. So, effectively, he heard his own case and issued the order he liked without consulting anyone.
Kantipur, very rightly, pointed out discrepancies in his official birth dates—there are as many as five of them. That would be a serious legal issue for any Nepali citizen; for a person heading the country’s judiciary, it is an offence, legal and moral, of immeasurable magnitude. Kantipur, like a few other media outlets, was only pointing at the anomaly. And in doing so, they were serving a larger duty of a free press. It was informing the Nepali public that the person holding the office had a lot of explaining to do.
It’s also important to look at CJ Parjuli’s history. It’s no secret that he dismisses the press each time something is written about him that he disagrees with. He likes to call it “trial by media.”
A free press, ideally, seeks to strengthen democracy by creating an informed society and giving voices to diverse groups of individual and opinions. The higher the public figure, the greater is the media scrutiny—this for the simple reason that their decisions (and who they are, both in terms of their competence and integrity) impact a large number of people.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the order on Sunday comes in the backdrop of a series of controversial decisions made by the Supreme Court under CJ Parajuli, as he prepares to leave office in two months. The speed at which the SC made decisions on Ncell’s dividend repatriation and Ajeya Raj Sumargi’s frozen bank accounts, among others, are case in point. There are fears he could do more damage and many of them either motivated by personal vendetta and others compromising on the ideals of fair trial.
We call on the CJ to stop hearing cases any further. And should he fail to do that, Parliament should quickly exercise its due authority to stop him from causing more damage. Already, CJ Parjauli is being investigated by two Supreme Court justices on charges that he had lied about his birth date and academic qualification. These are extremely serious charges and they call to question the character of the man who is currently heading the judiciary.