With lottery system, chief justice loses the master of roster roleA system of drawing lots for assigning cases will come into effect starting December 1, but the judiciary crisis may not end anytime soon.
It’s official now. Come December 1, the chief justice of Nepal will not be the master of the roster.
A full court meeting of the 18 Supreme Court justices, which was not attended by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, on Thursday decided to implement a lottery system for allocation of benches, marking an end to the long-standing tradition of the head of the judiciary assigning the cases.
“Now, with the full court’s decision, the lottery system for assigning cases will come into effect from December 1,” said Baburam Dahal, spokesperson for the Supreme Court.
Earlier on Monday, the regulation prepared by the full court of the Supreme Court on November 18 was endorsed by the Law Ministry, paving the way for the judiciary to start the lottery system to prepare the cause list.
The full court decision on Thursday came just as Nepal Bar Association and various professional organisations marched from the Supreme Court to Baluwatar to mount pressure on Rana to step down.
The Nepal Bar has made Rana’s resignation its bottom line. Justices, however, are now set to return to hear all kinds of cases from December 1 based on the lottery system.
Hearings may start from December 1 as per the new developments, but questions remain how, as lawyers have said they will not participate.
Those familiar with the ongoing crisis in the judiciary say the lottery system may not provide a complete solution.
The foremost question is whether the chief justice will be present while drawing lots and whether he will also draw lots.
Supreme Court officials said Chief Justice Rana will lead the lottery system and that he would also draw lots.
“As of now, we have no such information that the chief justice, who heads the cause list management committee, would not participate in the lottery system,” said Kishwor Paudel, a communication expert at the Supreme Court.
Justices though returned to hearings on November 18 after weeks-long standoff, they have not shared benches with the chief justice. There is no clarity on how justices are going to deal with the situation when the chief justice not only becomes the witness to the lottery system but also has cases for him, some cases that other judges have to share with him.
The Nepal Bar Association and the Supreme Court Bar Association have said in clear terms that they will have to think about supporting the lottery system if Chief Justice Rana is also involved in drawing lots.
“We have informed the justices that we don’t recognise Rana as chief justice now and that any action taken by him is unacceptable to us,” said Purna Man Shakya, chair of the Supreme Court Bar Association. “If Rana refuses to refrain from participating in the lottery system, we will have to chart out another strategy to further isolate him. We may even ask justices to stall hearings based on the lottery system.”
According to Shakya, chairs of both bar associations have informed the justices that they will not tolerate any justice sharing a bench with the chief justice.
Justices and experts say the lottery system has its own demerits but at this point of time, this is the only solution.
Recommendations actually have been made that the judiciary adopt an automated system to assign cases. The lottery system has been envisioned as a stopgap measure so as not to allow Chief Justice Rana to assign cases to justices or benches.
One of the charges Rana is facing is that he had been abusing his role of the master of the roster and assigning cases for financial benefits.
One of the justices told the Post that they are well aware of the drawbacks of a lottery system.
“We can address the drawbacks gradually as we practice this system,” said the justice. “It may take around six-seven months for us to move to a fully automated system.”
Rana, who has so far maintained that he is not going to resign, has not been to the Supreme Court for the last few days.
According to court officials, Rana “has not been keeping well” and he came to his office on Thursday for a brief period to sign the decision of the full court on implementing the lottery system.
According to Dahal, the spokesperson for the Supreme Court, Rana has not attended his office for the last few days.
Lawyers say how the Supreme Court crisis gets over depends on Rana.
“Our struggle has not reached the climax yet. We are preparing to come up with more protest plans,” said Shakya, the chair of the Supreme Court Bar Association. “I don’t think Rana, who we do not consider chief justice now, can sustain for long.”
The Nepal Bar meanwhile is meeting the leadership of the Nepali Congress, the party that is leading the government, on Friday.
According to Chandeshwar Shrestha, chair of the Nepal Bar Association, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has invited them to Baluwatar to discuss the deadlock in the judiciary on Friday morning. “We will try to convince him why an impeachment motion against the chief justice is a must.”
None of the political parties so far has shown any interest in filing an impeachment motion against Rana even though the judiciary has been facing a crisis for a month, depriving thousands of the people of their right to justice.
Chief Justice Rana so far has maintained but one position–that he can be removed only through a constitutional process of impeachment.
“Everything depends on how the internal and external environment of the Supreme Court evolves,” said Dahal, the spokesperson of the Supreme Court. “It’s up to the chief justice to decide... Whether he is going on leave or taking any other decision . He has not given any hint yet.”