Justices divided on their struggle against chief justiceFive of those who campaigned against Rana demanding his resignation have decided not to attend any meetings except for a full court, as lawyers step up protest.
Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana on Monday called on agitating legal professionals, who are demanding his resignation, to sit for dialogue.
The Nepal Bar Association and the Supreme Court Bar Association rejected Rana’s invitation for talks, saying their bottom line is his resignation.
But five of the agitating justices later on Monday refused to join a meeting called by the Nepal Bar.
The three developments in a day amid a deepening crisis in the judiciary could either be a calm before the storm or the beginning of return of peace at the Supreme Court which has seen an unprecedented turbulence over the last three weeks.
Justices who have not heard a single case except for a few habeas corpus petitions are increasingly under moral pressure.
One of the five justices who did not attend the meeting with the Nepal Bar said they had made it clear during a meeting of justices on Sunday that they won’t continue with “fruitless” meetings anymore.
“We decided not to join any meetings except for a full court as such discussions have failed to yield any results in the past 20 days,” the justice, who wished not to be named, told the Post.
The justices who did not attend the meeting on Monday are Tej Bahadur KC, Bam Kumar Shrestha, Kumar Regmi, Manoj Kumar Sharma and Kumar Chudal.
On October 25, all 19 justices of the Supreme Court had banded together to level serious allegations against Chief Justice Rana and demanded his resignation to save the judiciary from falling into further crisis.
The charges included Rana making deals with the executive. The justices also said Rana cannot lead the judiciary because he has courted a series of controversies.
The Supreme Court Bar Association then took up the case. The Nepal Bar, however, took a while to come forward against Rana, but when it also started demanding his resignation, it looked like the chief justice’s days were numbered.
Calls meanwhile also grew for initiating an impeachment motion. But political parties came to the rescue. For some known and unknown reasons, parties showed their reluctance to initiate an impeachment motion, suddenly emboldening the chief justice who started assigning cases to the justices.
Multiple justices have told the Post over the past few days that it became difficult for them to not hear cases, as it meant depriving the public of their right to justice.
Just as justices were working to seek a middle path, the Nepal Bar upped the ante. And now five of the justices have indicated that they are not going to continue their protest against the chief justice.
One of the justices pitching for a middle path said the situation has become tricky now.
“We just listened to them today and we have said we will inform our position after holding a discussion among the justices,” said one of the senior justices who attended the meeting called by the Nepal Bar. “We have decided to sit again on Tuesday afternoon.”
Three members of the Nepal Bar including chair Chandeshwar Shrestha, vice-chair Rakshya Basyal and General Secretary Lilamani Poudel and Supreme Court Bar Association’s chair Purna Man Shakya and Secretary Rishiram Ghimire were present at the meeting.
“We were told that the five justices could not attend the meeting because they were attending the benches,” said Basyal. “We have, however, made it clear to the justices that the chief justice’s resignation is our bottom line and that whoever succeeds Rana must ensure reforms in the judiciary.”
If Rana steps down, Deepak Kumar Karki will become chief justice, however, his appointment to the post is easier said than done. If Rana serves his full term, which is until December next year, Karki will miss the chance of leading the judiciary because of his age.
Putting in place a system of drawing lots to assign cases is what justices think could be one of the ways to break the current deadlock. As of now, given the longstanding tradition, the chief justice himself prepares the cause list and assigns cases to different justices.
But for the justices to return to the benches, they need to take the agitating legal practitioners into confidence.
After the chief justice dodged the agitating lawyers for three days to reach his office despite their plan to not let him enter the Supreme Court, the Nepal Bar decided to ratchet up its protest. A scuffle between lawyers and security personnel has also left the Nepal Bar seething.
On Sunday, the bar sent letters to 18 justices—Ishwar Khatiwada is currently in the United States—requesting them not to attend benches assigned by the chief justice.
“Things will be clearer on Tuesday,” the justice who attended the meeting with lawyers told the Post.
Immediately after Chief Justice Rana issued the statement on Monday calling for dialogue, lawyers reacted angrily, saying they won’t agree on anything less than his resignation. The lawyers’ body has maintained that reforms in the judiciary are not possible as long as Rana remains in office.
Rana over the past weeks has argued that since he was appointed through a constitutional process, he could be removed only through a constitutional means, which is impeachment.
“Dialogue is the most appropriate way to resolve any deadlock. I appeal to the Nepal Bar Association and Supreme Court Bar Association to come for dialogue,” said Rana in Monday’s statement. He has also committed to implementing the report and recommendations by Supreme Court Justice Hari Krishna Karki for judicial reforms.
Stating that the bar and the bench are two wheels of the same chariot, Rana said “bar and bench have a history of complementing each other and moving forward hand in hand whenever questions were raised in the course of discharging duties.” “I am ready to begin from where dialogue and discussions were disrupted,” he said. “I would like to appeal to everyone to opt for the path of dialogue to settle the problems that have emerged in a family of the judiciary.”
It was not clear if five of the 15 justices who were present in their offices decided to reject the meeting called by the bar after Rana held out an olive branch to the agitating legal practitioners.
Lawyers say they were also wondering how the five justices suddenly made up their mind to attend the benches. But it won’t be easy for the justices to give up the campaign that they had started for reforms in the judiciary, according to the members of the Nepal Bar.
“Nepal Bar could also demand the resignation of justices if they choose to attend the benches without taking the current struggle to a logical conclusion,” said Raman Kumar Shrestha, a senior advocate and former general secretary of the Nepal Bar. “Lawyers could even expose them along with the chief justice.”
During the meeting with the justices on Monday members of both the bars expressed their concerns that the split among the judges could affect their ongoing struggle. Lawyers have said that they won’t participate in hearings.
“I don’t think the justices can now end their struggle and join the benches without taking the Nepal Bar into confidence,” said Basyal, the vice-chair of the Nepal Bar. “And even if they decide to attend the benches, how is it possible, as lawyers have decided not to participate in hearings?”