Supreme Court orders review of the decision by a bench comprising chief justice on Ranjan Koirala caseA three-justice bench questions the rationale behind Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana and Justice Tej Bahadur KC’s verdict to commute Koirala’s sentence from life imprisonment to eight and a half years for murdering his wife.
The Supreme Court on Sunday decided to review the judgment passed by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana and Justice Tej Bahadur KC to cut short the punishment for Ranjan Koirala, a former deputy inspector general of the Armed Police Force, who was serving a life term on the charge of murdering his wife, Gita Dhakal.
Koirala was released on July 23, after a division bench of Rana and KC said on June 29 that he could be released after serving eight years and six months in jail arguing that the life imprisonment was too high, as the incident seemed accidental.
Koirala was handed down a life term by the Kathmandu District Court in January 2012, and the decision was upheld by the then Patan Appellate Court.
On behalf of the Office of the Attorney General, Hareram Dhakal, father of Gita Dhakal, the first informer of the case, filed the petition at the Supreme Court on July 23, saying that employing the use of No. 188 of the Muluki Ain was not appropriate, and the assumption that the incident was accidental and was provoked by his wife and was committed mens rea–the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime–was wrong.
No. 188 (chapter on court management) of Muluki Ain gives discretionary powers to justices to reduce the punishment on criminal charges.
The provision has been done away with in the new criminal code that came into force on August 17, 2018. On June 29, the division bench of Rana and KC had decided to cut the life sentence of Koirala to eight and a half years while annulling the decision of the Kathmandu District Court and Patan Appellate Court to send him to life in prison and confiscate his property.
Koirala killed his wife Gita in February 2012. Her half-burnt body was found at Matrang of Tistung in Makwanpur district.
After the review petition was filed, the Supreme Court constituted a three-justice bench of Bam Kumar Shrestha, Prakash Kumar Dhungana and Kumar Regmi.
The bench on Sunday agreed to review the decision taken by the division bench of Rana and KC.
“Koirala was found to have refused the crime and there is no condition to assume that the incident was accidental... or it happened in normal circumstances as he had attempted to hide the body,” states the decision of the three-justice bench.
“The decision to use No. 188 of Muluki Ain seems to go against the principle set by a number of Supreme Court decisions… so this court allows a review of its decision of June 29 as per Clause 11 (2) of the Judicial Administration Act 2073.”
With the decision of the three justices, the case against Koirala will now resume as “a regular case”, said senior advocate Chandra Kanta Gyawali.
“The case will now be reopened with Ranjan Koirala and Tara Regmi as defendants and the case will remain sub judice until final decision,” said Gyawali.
The Office of the Attorney General has made Koirala and Tara Regmi, who is said to be his girlfriend, as the defendants.
According to an official at the Attorney’s office, the review petition, however, does not mean Koirala has to return to the prison until the Supreme Court comes up with a final decision.
As Shrestha, Dhungana and Regmi on Sunday decided to give the nod for the review of the decision taken by Rana and KC to commute the sentence for Koirala from life imprisonment to eight-and-a-half years, they cannot hear the review petition.
“Accepting to review the case in itself is the acceptance by the Supreme Court that the verdict is, prima facie, erroneous,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional lawyer who is also the author of the book ‘Judicial Review’. “Now after going to the regular hearing process, the court will decide whether the decision of the division bench [of Rana and KC] was correct or not.”
Chief Justice Rana-led bench’s decision to reduce the sentence for Koirala has prompted protests on the streets, with demands that the chief justice be impeached.
Acharya said whether the decision will be reversed or not is a different matter but that there have already been protests and that a review petition has already been accepted could obviously be understood as some moral pressure on the chief justice.
“It’s quite a common process in the court of law when such decisions are reversed,” Acharya told the Post. “The issue here is Rana faces a moral question.”
According to Sanjiv Raj Regmi, spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, cases are reviewed all the time but rarely do the judgements by the chief justice draw review petitions.
The most recent review petition by the Office of the Attorney General, which was accepted by the Supreme Court, was around a year ago about a banking fraud which is still sub judice.
Rana himself was involved in one of the cases in the capacity of a Supreme Court justice that was reviewed earlier in 2015.
A division bench of then chief justice Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Rana on June 21, 2015 had awarded ownership of 15 ropanis of land at Chhauni to Prerana Rajya Laxmi Singh, daughter of former king Gyanendra, as she had claimed to have received it as dowry.
The decision was later revoked by a full bench of another chief justice Sushila Karki and Justices Deepak Kumar Karki and Sapana Pradhan Malla in January 2017 through a review process, saying the land belonged to Nepal Trust as the properties of the former kings were transferred in the name of the state after the abolition of the monarchy in 2008.
“There are many cases in which the decisions of the Supreme Court’s justices have been revoked through review processes,” said Regmi. “But there are only a few cases where a review is filed in relation to cases decided by chief justices.”