In the dock, againThe justices should remain true to the ideals of impartiality and incorruptibility.
Just when we start to think that the judiciary cannot sink any lower, it surprises us by going lower. A leaked audio call purportedly between lawyer Rudra Pokhrel and Kathmandu District Court Judge Raj Kumar Koirala, negotiating a deal to have businessman Ichchha Raj Tamang, who is accused of bank fraud, released from jail, has been doing the rounds. A three-member judicial council has been formed with a 45-day deadline to investigate the matter; and if the allegations turn out to be indeed true, it exposes how justice has become a commodity that can be purchased through closed-door dealings. If proven to be true, the case exemplifies how the justices themselves are undermining the idea of justice by making corruption the mainstay of their profession; it proves how the last citadel of justice is hollowed out by the very people who lead it.
But this is not the first time—nor will it be the last time—when a high-level judge has come under the radar for being potentially corrupt. The impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana is pending in Parliament. Rana has remained under suspension for the past four months after 98 lawmakers representing the ruling coalition registered a motion against him in Parliament. He has been accused, among other things, of financial corruption, failure to maintain impartiality, and bench shopping. Ironically, it was a constitutional bench led by Rana himself that ousted KP Sharma Oli for undermining democracy in July last year. As the impeachment motion against the head of the judiciary remains in limbo, and as the idea of reforming the judiciary remains to be translated into action, the judiciary itself is in a suspended state.
The travesty of justice being orchestrated in the courts is the result of years—and decades—of neglect when it comes to bringing corrupt members of the judiciary to book despite the corruption within the institution remaining an open secret. The corruptibility of the judiciary, though, is hardly an independent problem of the judiciary itself. Every other public institution of the country reeks of corruption, dereliction of duty and neglect for ethics and values. And this does not bode well for a fragile democracy like Nepal. The moment the impartiality of the judiciary is compromised, corrupt forces in every sector, especially politics, raise their heads. The way the judiciary is being embroiled in one controversy after another, it is increasingly showing symptoms of being in a crisis.
If the crisis continues, it won’t be long before citizens completely lose faith in the judiciary. Before that happens, the judiciary calls for significant internal reforms. That begins right with the appointment of justices based on the vested interests of political parties rather than competence. More importantly, it is incumbent upon the justices themselves to remain true to the ideals of impartiality and incorruptibility. Those leading the country’s courts should rid themselves of the misconception that the authority of the courts and the justices should remain unchallenged. At the same time, citizens must remain vigilant about the goings-on in the judiciary, for its degeneration into a corrupt institution ultimately undermines their quest for justice.