After weeks of silence, Chief Justice Rana starts asserting his roleRana has called a meeting of the Judicial Service Commission for Wednesday to select district court judges. Members have yet to decide whether to attend the meeting.
Tika R Pradhan
About two months since the crisis in the judiciary started to unfold, following a revolt by justices against Cholendra Shumsher Rana, the chief justice appears to have started to up his ante, just as lawyers' protest continues.
After asking Chief Registrar Lal Bahadur Kunwar to stop the ongoing lawyers’ protests in front of the main gate of the Supreme Court on Monday, Rana called a meeting of the Judicial Service Commission, which he heads, for 3pm Wednesday.
The Judicial Service Commission had conducted the exam for district court judges from September 28 and is preparing to publish the results and that is the only agenda of the meeting called by Chief Justice Rana, according to Attorney General Khamma Bahadur Khati.
The five-member Judicial Service Commission led by the chief justice includes the law minister, senior-most justice of the Supreme Court, attorney general and the chairman of the Public Service Commission as members.
“Justice Deepak Karki told us that the chief justice has called a meeting of the Judicial Service Commission. Karki didn’t say whether he would attend or not,” said one of the senior justices of the Supreme Court. “We hope that Justice Karki will take an appropriate decision at a time when the lawyers are adamant on their demand for Rana’s resignation and have sent letters to justices not to join any meetings called by the chief justice.”
Though justices started attending benches after the introduction of a lottery system to assign cases to benches they have not shared benches with the chief justice. Protesting lawyers have warned the justices not to share any bench with the chief justice.
Until now the justices have not shared benches with the chief justice, but from Rana’s recent moves it appears that he intends to assert his position as administrative chief of the judiciary.
“Rana’s instruction to remove obstruction from the main gate of the Supreme Court and his scheduling of the meeting of the Judicial Service Commission indicates that he is gradually trying to raise his head,” said Chandeshwar Shrestha, chairman of the Nepal Bar Association, who is heading the struggle at the Supreme Court demanding that Rana should step down to ensure reforms in the judiciary. “I don’t think the senior-most justice who has been skipping all the meetings and avoiding sharing benches with Rana will attend Wednesday’s meeting.”
On October 25, the Supreme Court justices started revolting against Chief Justice Rana by boycotting a full court meeting. And after the Nepal Bar Association and the Supreme Court Bar Association launched protests demanding resignation of Chief Justice Rana, the justices started avoiding all benches in their attempt to find a way out of the crisis in the judiciary.
The justices had asked Rana to ‘pave the way’ out of the crisis by resigning but they returned to work following the introduction of the lottery system to assign cases to benches.
Earlier, on November 14 when their struggle was at its peak, Nepal Bar Association had dispatched individual letters to the justices of the Supreme Court urging them not to join any meetings called by Chief Justice Rana.
Justices have also been convening full court meetings in the absence of Chief Justice Rana, who has been signing the meeting minutes later to authenticate the meetings’ decisions.
Attorney General Khati said he would first communicate with the members of the Judicial Service Commission informally before taking a collective decision on whether to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“There are several pending tasks of the commission and therefore we will first hold informal talks among its members and then decide what to do,” Attorney General Khati told the Post.
But Bar bodies have claimed that the members of the Judicial Service Commission will not join Wednesday’s meeting as they have requested the members not to attend any meetings headed by Rana.
After the justices decided to return to work following the introduction of the lottery system, the lawyers were in a fix as there was no way for them to backtrack from their demand for Rana’s resignation.
Shrestha said if any of the members joined the meeting called by Rana then it would send a different message. But there are questions– how long can the judiciary be held hostage as there is no sign of Rana stepping down, and his term will end only in December next year.
Since Rana heads the Judicial Council and the Judicial Service Commission, he can call their meetings anytime he wishes.
Legal experts have said Chief Justice Rana can bring much turmoil in the judiciary as his administrative powers have not been suspended yet though the boycott of him by the justices has barred him from exercising much of his judicial powers.
“Rana’s judicial powers have been suspended forever with all the justices boycotting him but now he is trying to use his administrative powers,” said Balaram KC, former justice of the Supreme Court. “There are many examples even in India that benches of a number of justices ordering against certain justices and therefore all our justices can also issue an order to the chief justice to quit.”
According to KC, the latest move by Rana shows he is not going to relent and could bring more chaos to the judiciary if the justices failed to take an urgent move to suspend him using their judicial powers.
“Rana could convene the meeting of the Judicial Council by persuading two of its members to attend and he could make appointments and transfers as per his wish to show that he is still powerful,” said KC. “If that happened that would be another unfortunate moment for the judiciary.”
KC said the members of the Judicial Service Commission should also boycott Wednesday’s meeting to exert more pressure on Rana to step down.
Another legal expert Bhimarjun Acharya also said there is a possibility of Rana making a mess by calling the meeting of the Judicial Council and therefore all the stakeholders including the parliament must speak up now.
“The problem in the judiciary is getting more and more complicated as Rana has sent clear indications that he will not step down,” said Acharya. “Since he failed to demonstrate the moral minimum required of his position, he must step down at the earliest.”
Acharya said Rana wanted to give a message that Bar’s struggle won’t affect him and he would continue his job.