Supreme Court justices to boycott full court meeting called by RanaPressure is mounting on chief justice, who has run into controversies, to step down from his post.
Fourteen Supreme Court justices have decided not to attend Monday’s full court meeting called by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, who is under fire over a series of controversies.
A meeting of the justices took a decision to that effect.
A Supreme Court justice said the ongoing confrontation between the chief justice and justices is likely to reach its climax.
“The chief justice is under intense pressure to step down,” the justice, who did not wish to be named, told the Post.
The full court meeting for Monday was decided by Chief Justice Rana without consulting the justices. On Sunday, while Rana held discussions with a delegation of lawyers from the Nepal Bar Association, the umbrella body of lawyers across the country, 14 Supreme Court justices met to discuss the controversies surrounding the judiciary.
One of the justices said they received information regarding the full court meeting for 1:30pm on Monday when they were busy discussing the contemporary issues and ways to introduce reforms in the judiciary. Rana also wanted Nepal Bar Association's representatives to attend the full court meeting.
The chief justice’s unilateral decision aimed at diverting the attention from the main issue irked the justices no end and they decided to boycott the meeting, the justice said.
Rana, who took the helm of the judiciary on January 2, 2019, is probably the first chief justice to have run into a series of controversies, with the latest one reported last month when he was said to have sought a share in the Cabinet. Some of his verdicts have also met with criticism. One of them is his June 29 last year’s decision to reduce the sentence of Ranjan Koirala, who was facing a life term for murdering his wife.
Chief Justice Rana agreed to review the decision after a public outcry, but he has not done so.
He is also facing criticism for not conducting a hearing on petitions against constitutional appointments. The erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government had introduced an ordinance to amend the Constitutional Council Act in December last year to ease the convening of the council meetings and making recommendations.
Rana, as chief justice, is a member of the council. Oli had amended the provisions in such a way that a meeting could be called and recommendations made even without the leader of the opposition and the Speaker.
Rana, who has until December next year to serve, was hailed as a saviour of the constitution and democracy by some sections until a few months ago when the Constitutional Bench led by him restored the House of Representatives twice. Erstwhile prime minister Oli had dissolved the House in December last year and May this year.
Those from the legal fraternity say Rana has been a controversial figure. He is now being called out by former judges and lawyers for failing to “clean up” the mess in the judiciary.
A report by Justice Hari Krishna Karki also pointed at corruption in the judiciary and how middlemen are active in “bench shopping”, a term used for the unscrupulous practice of selecting benches through middlemen to ensure a favourable order. The chief justice designates the benches.
There were calls for putting in place a system of drawing lots for designating benches so as to avoid irregularities. Though Rana on August 11 had publicly said he would introduce the system of drawing lots, he did not.
During his meeting with the Nepal Bar Association delegates, Rana denied any wrongdoing and expressed commitment to heed Bar’s demands.
“Rana denied that he pushed for Gajendra Hamal’s appointment as a minister,” said Lilamani Poudel, general secretary of the Nepal Bar Association. “He told us he had rather asked not to appoint Hamal. But we are not convinced.”
Poudel said Rana told the Nepal Bar Association delegation that he would begin the system of drawing lots for preparing the cause list from Tuesday as an experiment.
Legal professionals have been saying that Nepal Bar Association must build pressure on Rana to step down to help restore the sanctity of the judiciary.
Former Judges Forum, Nepal, on Friday appealed to the justices to make efforts to protect the judiciary.
Nepal Bar Association, however, has not demanded Rana’s resignation yet.
“We could reach that stage [of demanding chief justice’s resignation] if that solves the problem, but resignation alone won’t be enough to clear the mess that is rife in the judiciary,” said Chandeshwar Shrestha, chairperson of Nepal Bar Association, at a press meet organised after their meeting with Chief Justice Rana.
Members of the legal fraternity as well as Nepal Bar Association have long been demanding that the report of the study panel formed by the Supreme Court, led by Justice Hari Krishna Karki, be immediately implemented.
The Karki-panel, which included Nepal Bar Association’s Shrestha as a member, has recommended an automated system for preparing the cause list, and until the system is ready, the system of drawing lots should be ensured.
Now pressure on Rana has reached the tipping point.
Another Supreme Court justice, who attended Sunday’s meeting, said the justices were irked by Chief Justice Rana’s bid to divert the attention from the ongoing controversies surrounding him to the selection of senior advocates. Selection of senior advocates is one of the demands of the Nepal Bar Association. The full court selects senior advocates. Instead of trying to come clean on the controversies surrounding him, the chief justice made selection of senior advocates an agenda of the Monday’s full court meeting, which too has left Supreme Court justices seething.
“The study panel report has not only pointed out irregularities but also made recommendations. The chief justice should have held a series of meetings to find a way to clean up the mess in the judiciary and started implementing the recommendations,” the justice, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “Instead of trying to resolve the crisis facing the judiciary, the chief justice called a meeting to discuss appointing senior advocates. We cannot remain mere spectators as questions are being thrown at us.”
The justices have not taken any decision on boycotting the benches though.
Justices Deepak Kumar Karki, Mira Khadka, Hari Krishna Karki, Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai, Prakash Man Singh Raut, Bam Kumar Shrestha, Tanka Bahadur Moktan, Prakash Kumar Dhungana, Sushma Lata Mathema, Kumar Regmi, Hari Prasad Phuyal, Manoj Kumar Sharma and Nahakul Subedi were present at Sunday’s meeting.
Five justices Ishwar Khatiwada, Sapana Malla Pradhan, Anil Kumar Sinha, Tej Bahadur KC and Kumar Chudal were absent because they were out of Kathmandu.
The Supreme Court justices are planning to hold a meeting at 11am Monday.
“We have not decided to boycott benches, but hearings could be affected because the meeting could go for hours,” said one of the justices.
During Sunday’s meeting, according to the justice who spoke on condition of anonymity, Justice Hari Phuyal, whose ruling with regard to public debate on sub judice cases had run into controversy, tried to explain that his observation was regarding comments and opinions by retired judges, bar associations and lawyers on sub-judice cases and to what extent they could make comments. It was because of Phuyal’s ruling the Constitutional Bench could not hear the cases against the constitutional appointments.
Purna Man Shakya, chairman of Supreme Court Bar Association, said Chief Justice Rana is now under immense pressure as justices have decided to boycott the full court meeting.
“How can the chief justice lead the judiciary when its members are not supporting him?” said Shakya. “We will play our role in whatever way necessary to ensure the dignity and sanctity of the judiciary.”