Emboldened by parties’ silence, chief justice goes on the offensiveRana assigns cases to justices who have boycotted benches for the last two weeks, in a clear sign of escalating confrontation in the judiciary.
In what looked like a clear sign of escalating confrontation in the judiciary, Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana on Tuesday assigned as many as 298 cases to Supreme Court justices who have not heard a single petition, except habeas corpus, for the last two weeks.
As many as 16 justices, out of the 20 in the Supreme Court including the chief justice, refused to hear the cases. Though they have not officially declared they would boycott the benches, they have not heard any cases, except habeas corpus petitions since they launched their protest against Rana two weeks ago.
A justice told the Post that only those benches that were assigned habeas corpus petitions sat on Tuesday.
Along with the justices, the Nepal Bar Association, the umbrella organisation of lawyers across the country, has also been demanding Rana’s resignation. The Nepal Bar Association on Tuesday announced its second phase of protests which includes boycotting the benches of the courts within Kathmandu Valley for two hours from 10am to 12pm.
According to Chandeshwar Shrestha, chairman of the Nepal Bar Association, the bar has decided to boycott benches at the Supreme Court and district courts of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kavre. The Nepal Bar has also decided to boycott hearings at the Special Court and the Patan High Court.
The Nepal Bar Association has also decided to ask the members of the Judicial Council and the Judicial Service Commission not to participate in the meetings led by Chief Justice Rana.
Supreme Court justices on Tuesday refused to hear any cases except habeas corpus petitions.
“Justices heard just one petition of habeas corpus today,” said Baburam Dahal, spokesperson for the Supreme Court. “The only habeas corpus petition was assigned to a division bench of Justices Tej Bahadur KC and Manoj Kumar Sharma.”
Tuesday’s move by Chief Justice Rana, who has made it clear that he is not going to resign because “some people are demanding so”, to assign cases to justices who are already under moral pressure for denying justice to the public is expected to further complicate the crisis in the judiciary.
Some of the justices the Post has spoken with in the past few days have admitted that it would be difficult for them to boycott the benches for long. According to the judges, Nepal’s political parties need to take initiative to remove Rana from office.
Rana, who was appointed chief justice in January 2019, has his term until December next year. The only ways the office of the chief justice can go vacant are–either Rana has to resign or parties have to file an impeachment motion against him in Parliament.
But political parties have not shown any interest in impeaching Rana as of now.
Instead, a meeting of the ruling coalition–the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha–on Monday decided not to make any move against Rana.
On Monday, during the meeting of the ruling coalition partners, leaders of the major parties including the Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre were against discussing the crisis in the judiciary.
According to leaders who attended the meeting, Prime Minister Deuba did not even want to talk about the crisis in the Supreme Court.
A Standing Committee meeting of the Maoist Centre held on Tuesday decided that it won’t interfere with the matters related to the judiciary.
“Actually the prime minister and Maoist Centre leaders were not interested to even touch upon the judiciary during the meeting,” a leader who attended the meeting told the Post, asking not to be named. “Maybe the newly formed committee could discuss the issue at its meetings.”
The ruling coalition on Monday decided to form a “coordination committee” to “assist” the government.
Many wonder if Rana felt emboldened by the ruling alliance’s indecision on the crisis in the judiciary and thus decided to be on the offensive. Rana’s move of assigning cases to justices, who are already under moral pressure, indicates that he is not going to relent so easily.
Of late, calls have been growing that justices must not boycott benches and they should hear the cases avoiding only those benches which they have to share with Rana.
On Tuesday, Rana kept one bench for himself and divided benches for other justices.
Justices say Rana went against an agreement they had reached a few days ago that until there is a solution to the ongoing crisis, only habeas corpus petitions would be assigned.
“Recent incidents show that the chief justice has the backing of political parties–both the ruling and the opposition,” said Balaram KC, a former Supreme Court justice.
The main opposition CPN-UML has been against the protest against Rana despite the fact that the Constitutional Bench led by him had overturned the decisions of then prime minister KP Sharma Oli, the UML chair, to dissolve the House of Representatives.
While passing the decision on July 12 to restore the House, dissolved by Oli for a second time on May 21, the Rana-led Constitutional Bench had ordered Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba’s appointment as prime minister.
The UML has maintained that if Rana were to be forced out of office, four other justices who were members of the Constitutional Bench must be relieved of their duties.
The ruling alliance, on the other hand, has no intention to make any move against Rana, for it was because of the bench led by him it is in power now.
According to one of the justices, Rana has tried to send a message that the justices cannot demand his resignation by boycotting benches for long.
“The chief justice is trying to put pressure on judges… he wants the judges to step down if they want to continue their protest against him,” said the justice. “But we will continue our protests in whatever way possible. Yes, we are also equally concerned that the public should not suffer.”
The justice said that justices are holding a meeting again on Thursday to discuss how to continue their protests while ensuring that service seekers are not affected.
Rana, however, does not seem to be in a mood to relent.
Talking with a delegation of some legal professionals, Rana said on Tuesday that he would ensure that the benches will start functioning in line with the constitution and the Judicial Administration Act.
“We had demanded that the chief justice ensure the benches run smoothly,” said Bhupendra Pokhrel, an advocate and a member of the delegation that met with Rana. “The chief justice told the delegation members that they ‘will see the changes’ within a few days.”