Linger no longerHouse panel should not delay further on the appointment of chief justice
Parliamentary hearings have never been contentious to the extent they have become now. The ruling and opposition parties are divided sharply over whether or not to confirm the nomination of Acting Chief Justice Deepak Raj Joshee to the position of chief justice. To be precise, it has become an ego issue between the ruling and opposition parties. The ruling Nepal Communist Party wants to reject the recommendation citing the acting chief justice’s dubious academic certificates, controversial rulings and obstinate behaviour during the hearings.
The opposition Nepali Congress, on the other hand, stands behind Joshee and wants the Parliamentary Hearing Committee (PHC) to endorse the recommendation. The opposition is arguing that the ruling party wants to attack the judiciary by rejecting the recommendation and making it a political agenda. It has questioned the Constitutional Council led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli why it has picked Joshee from among three candidates if he was not fit for the position.
The stalemate has left the PHC unable to reach a decision for more than a week in a clear departure from past practice when decisions were made on the same day the hearing is conducted. The PHC meeting has been postponed five times since Joshee’s hearing was held after both sides sought time for consultation.
Since last week, committee members met with their senior party leaders and lawyers close to them multiple times seeking their counsel on how to move ahead. At the same time, chief justice hopeful Joshee too has been busy persuading party leaders including Prime Minister Oli to confirm him. This has not just reduced the status of the PHC to a rubber stamp, but also decreased the stature of the judiciary. The longer the process lingers, the more these two institutions will be defamed.
The parliamentary hearing system was introduced in the Interim Constitution 2007. The 2015 Constitution continued the system, and Article 292 (2) states that a 15-member PHC comprising lawmakers from both houses of Parliament will conduct the hearing.
The Federal Parliament Joint Meeting and Joint Committee (Operation) Regulation which guide the PHC’s functions authorises it to endorse or reject the recommendations made to it. This means a two-thirds majority of the hearing committee can reject Joshee’s recommendation though it will be the first time in history.
In a democracy, when a consensus cannot be reached on any issue, it should be put to a vote. This applies to the PHC too. It is illogical on the part of the Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party in the country, to say it will boycott the PHC if the fate of the chief justice is decided by voting.
The delayed hearing process has already politicised the judiciary, therefore, we cannot afford to linger any longer. The PHC’s meeting on Friday should reach a decision on the appointment of the chief justice most preferably through consensus. If not, it should be decided by voting.