Judicial Council may nominate new judges this weekFive of the 21 justice positions including that of chief justice are vacant at the Supreme Court.
As the performance of different tiers of courts remains affected due to a lack of adequate number of judges, the Judicial Council is likely to make nominations this week to fill vacant seats at the Supreme Court and High Courts.
Five of the 21 justice positions including that of chief justice are vacant at the Supreme Court, which has been headed by an acting chief justice for around a year now. While it is the Constitutional Council that picks the chief justice, other justices and judges are selected by the Judicial Council.
“The Minister for Law and Justice is currently outside the Capital. It is likely that the Judicial Council’s meeting will be held once he returns,” Man Bahadur Karki, spokesperson for the Judicial Council, told the Post.
The Judicial Council, led by the chief justice, includes the minister for law and justice, the senior-most justice of the Supreme Court, a jurist appointed by the President on the government’s recommendation, and a senior advocate recommended by the Nepal Bar Association as members.
As many as six Supreme Court justices retired on different dates in 2022. However, just one justice—Til Prasad Shrestha—was appointed in March last year as a replacement for the retired justice Purusottam Bhandari. The court is yet to get replacements of former acting Chief Justice Deepak Kumar Kari and justices Meera Khadka, Tej Kumar KC and Bom Kumar Shrestha—all of whom retired last year. Similarly, the chief justice’s position has been lying vacant since the retirement of Cholendra Shumsher Rana on December 13.
Though the Judicial Council on September 6 recommended two high court chief judges, Neeta Gautam Dixit and Binod Sharma, and an advocate DN Parajuli, who also is a campus chief at the Nepal Law Campus, for appointment as Supreme Court justices, their appointments have been delayed owing to lack of parliamentary hearings. The term of the House of Representatives expired before their parliamentary hearings could take place. Article 292 of the Constitution of Nepal makes parliamentary hearings mandatory for nominees to constitutional bodies.
Laxmi Prasad Gautam, a joint secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said the hearing process will resume when the Parliamentary Hearing Committee is constituted.
Records at the Judicial Council show that in addition to five justices at the apex court, 30 positions of High Court judges and six chief judges are lying vacant. Among the seven, only Dipayal High Court has a chief judge in Nripa Dhwaj Niraula. All other high courts are being led by the acting chief judges.
Lack of judges has affected the performance of all three tiers of the courts. As per the annual report of the judiciary for the fiscal year 2021-22, the court could reach the 60 percent clearance rate.
The Supreme Court, which also has the responsibility of supervising subordinate courts, was the worst performer among the three tiers of courts. The high courts performed the best with a 59.33 percent case clearance rate. District courts came second with 54.56 percent, while the apex court was last, at 17 percent.
Of the total 33,466 cases, including backlog from previous years, the Supreme Court could clear just 5,689 cases in a year, which is way less than its own performance in the fiscal year 2020-21. It had as many as 35,981 cases in docket in 2020-21, including 24,180 from the previous years. The court could clear 31.2o percent of the cases, with a backlog of 24,756 for the next year.
Even if the Judicial Council picks the names this week, the placement of the justices will take a minimum of two months. The lower house is yet to form a hearing committee, which is not possible for at least the next two weeks. The hearing committee first solicits complaints from the public against those recommended for justices and then conducts hearings after studying them.