After chief justice hints he is ready for ‘graceful exit’, justices take talks initiativeBut some Supreme Court judges fear it could just be Rana’s ploy to stop protests.
A week after a confrontation began in the judiciary with the Nepal Bar Association and justices standing against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana demanding his resignation, lawyers are now up in arms.
As per its Friday decision, the association started a sit-in protest from Sunday. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court justices continued to boycott hearings of cases assigned to them by Chief Justice Rana.
The ongoing protest has affected hundreds of hearings.
During a meeting of 17 justices on Sunday, Justice Manoj Kumar Sharma, who is regarded as close to Rana, told the justices that the chief justice could have thought of some way out of the deadlock and it would be good to reach out to him.
Sharma told the meeting that Rana has offered to hold talks with the justices to resolve the dispute and hinted that he is ready for a ‘graceful exit’.
Following this development, the meeting assigned a three-member team of justices Anil Kumar Sinha, Sapana Pradhan Malla and Sharma to communicate with Rana.
But the justices fear that Chief Justice Rana could linger the issue of his resignation by bringing up some proposals. Sources also claimed that he has offered to quit ‘gracefully’ after around six months.
“This is just a ploy of Chief Justice Rana to linger the issue,” said one justice.
Nepal Bar Association Chairman Chandeshwar Shrestha, meanwhile, said he had no idea about the chief justice’s plan to exit gracefully.
“We will continue with our set protests for now, as we have no information about any communication between the justices and the chief justice,” said Shrestha. “If there is any concrete development, we will discuss it after completing the first phase of our ongoing struggle.”
He said Sunday’s incident shows that Chief Justice Rana has now felt the heat as all 19 Supreme Court justices are against him and the umbrella organisation of lawyers is also in protest.
One of the 17 justices present at Sunday’s meeting said they will meet on Monday to decide whether to resume hearings on habeas corpus petitions.
While the justices boycotted benches, Rana has been hearing cases. On Sunday, he decided one of the two cases allocated to his bench.
Nepal Bar Association has demanded that the chief justice should not hear any cases but Bar treasurer and advocate Rudra Prasad Pokhrel took part in Sunday’s hearing, in a clear indication of a division among advocates. There are a few other advocates who are demanding that the justices must not halt hearings and deprive the public of their right to justice. Those in favour of continued hearings participated in the protest by wearing white bands around their arms.
The justices and lawyers’ associations have accused the chief justice of judicial deviation by demanding share in the Cabinet, and obstructing justice delivery. The chief justice denies the charges.
As many as 15 justices of the apex court have been avoiding the benches since October 24 demanding that the chief justice step down. Two justices who were on leave—Anil Kumar Sinha and Sapana Pradhan Malla—also joined the protesters from Sunday.
Justice Ishwar Khatiwada is currently in the United States and another justice Tej Bahadur KC is on leave. But according to a justice, they have already sent messages of solidarity with their protest.
Although the justices were considering resuming hearings on habeas corpus petitions, no such hearing was held on Sunday. Following pressures from the service seekers and some lawyers on Friday, justices had decided to resume hearings on habeas corpus petitions from Sunday after consulting with Sinha and Malla.
On Friday six individuals including advocate Krishna Prasai had filed a writ petition demanding a mandamus order against the 15 justices avoiding the benches to return to work. Two more such petitions were filed on Sunday but they have yet to be registered.
“We have received three different petitions demanding resumption of hearings but they have not been registered yet,” said Baburam Dahal, spokesperson of the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, some senior advocates have said Chief Justice Rana cannot remain in his position after Nepal Bar Association’s demand for his resignation. “Who are you to ignore the Bar Association’s calls to resign?” fumed senior advocate Shambhu Thapa talking to reporters after Sunday’s protest. “All the advocates and officials of the Supreme court including the registrars should unite in protest.”
Rana, who took charge of the top position of the judiciary on January 2, 2019, will retire in December next year.
Another senior advocate Raman Shrestha also said that justices took the lead in the protest against Rana but the Nepal Bar Association could not make a prompt decision. “Things have gone so bad in the judiciary that senior advocates like Badri Bahadur Karki say they are mulling over quitting the profession altogether,” said Shrestha. “Due to the incopetent leadership of the judiciary, legal practitioners are frustrated. What could be worse than this.”