Justices willing to make peace if Rana assigns cases by drawing lotsAn unrelenting Nepal Bar Association gives the chief justice until Friday to step down.
Three weeks after the crisis emerged in the Supreme Court with all the justices standing against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, things appear to be settling down. A resolution is likely as judges on Wednesday finalised a draft to amend the existing law to adopt a system of drawing lots for assigning cases.
The judges who were up in arms against Rana have started attending benches, even as Nepal Bar Association, the umbrella organisation of lawyers across the country, on Wednesday issued a 72-hour ultimatum for Rana to resign.
The justices, who have been boycotting benches since October 25, were working on the amendment to Supreme Court regulations and a directive to adopt a system where cases would be assigned to justices by drawing lots.
A justice, who was involved in preparing the amendment draft, said the judges have handed over the draft and directives to the Supreme Court registrar and asked him to report to Rana to call a full court to endorse it.
“It is up to the chief justice when he calls the full court,” the justice told the Post on the condition of anonymity. “The amendment to the regulations needs to be endorsed by the full court before it is sent to the Ministry of Law and Justice.”
He said that the dissenting justices, however, will not attend the full court with Rana.
The chief justice will call the full court but the dissenting justices will take the decision and forward it to Rana for his signature.
“Rana will sign it and dispatch to the ministry if he is willing to adopt the new system for preparing the cause list,” he said. “We will start hearing the cases related to reconciliation and withdrawal of cases besides habeas corpus petitions from the very next day the full court approves the amendment and the directives. Full-fledged hearings, however, will start only after the system of drawing lots comes into force.”
The Supreme Court justices had launched their campaign against Rana on October 25 alleging that he was the source of all ills in the judiciary. One of their demands was that Rana should assign them cases on the basis of drawing lots.
As per the longstanding tradition, it is the chief justice who assigns benches and cases to justices based on the nature of petitions and justices’ expertise. Questions, however, were raised whether Rana was playing foul.
After the justices’ campaign against Rana, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Nepal Bar Association had picked up the issue and made Rana’s resignation their common demand.
Accordingly, justices boycotted benches and lawyers started their protest in front of the Supreme Court to demand Rana’s resignation. Rana, however, maintained that he would not step down. He argued that he was ready to face an impeachment motion, which can be moved only by political parties. Politicians, however, maintained silence.
Then came a sudden twist in the tale.
At least four justices on Tuesday started attending benches, putting their colleagues and agitating lawyers in a fix.
Over the last few days, justices had come under moral pressure for not hearing the cases and they were seeking a middle path.
Adoption of a system of drawing lots for preparing the cause list came as a face saver for the agitating justices.
On Wednesday, the Nepal Bar Association held meetings with the five justices who on Monday said that they were not interested in any discussions that were not yielding any results for the past few weeks.
Four of those five justices on Tuesday attended the benches.
It was not immediately clear if the justices started hearing cases because they did not want to continue the protest against Rana to demand his resignation.
“The justices have said that they returned to work because it would be wrong not to hear cases for long,” Rudra Pokharel, Nepal Bar treasurer, told Post. “They said that they are with other justices and urged the bar to find a solution to the deadlock at the earliest possible.”
Bam Kumar Shrestha, Manoj Kumar Sharma, Tej Bahadur KC, Kumar Regmi and Kumar Chudal are the justices who on Monday said that they would start attending the benches starting Tuesday.
Rana on Wednesday also fixed benches for justices.
Only four justices conducted hearings of cases other than habeas corpus petitions while Justice Hari Phuyal issued a ruling on a habeas corpus petition.
Two division benches led by Bam Kumar Shrestha and Manoj Kumar Sharma and Tej Bahadur KC and Kumar Chudal conducted hearings on two cases each.
Pokharel from the Nepal Bar said lawyers will launch sterner protests, including at high courts across the country if Rana does not resign by Friday.
The legal professionals on Wednesday also demanded that political parties must move an impeachment motion against Rana.
The ruling alliance, which is made up of five parties, however, has maintained that a solution to the crisis in the judiciary should be found from within.
Speaking to journalists in Mahottari on Wednesday, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chair of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), a key coalition partner, said the five-party alliance has a common position that the judiciary itself has to give a way out to the present stalemate.
He was of the view that the meeting of the coordination committee of the five parties on Tuesday had made a balanced decision that they expected all stakeholders to take initiatives to find a solution to the ongoing crisis in the judiciary at the earliest so as to save the independence, dignity, credibility and impartiality of the judiciary.
“It is not necessary to comment further on the matter,” he said.
Those who have been following the developments say they don’t see political parties making a move to impeach Rana.
“Despite the demands from law professionals, parties don’t seem to be ready to move an impeachment motion against Rana,” Girish Chandra Lal, a former Supreme Court justice, told the Post. “Rana will continue until he resigns voluntarily. The fact is that his refusal to step down is deteriorating his image every single day.”