Impeachment move alone ‘no ground for suspension’The Supreme Court ruling may dissuade lawmakers from bringing such motions on a whim in the future.
The registration of an impeachment motion against the chief justice, justices and those holding constitutional positions doesn’t lead to their automatic suspension, according to a Supreme Court verdict.
The top court made a detailed interpretation of Article 101 (6) of the Constitution of Nepal in its verdict on writ petitions filed by advocates Sunil Ranjan Singh and Kanchan Krishna Neupane challenging the impeachment motion against then-chief justice Sushila Karki.
“The chief justice of Nepal or a justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the Judicial Council, the chief or official of constitutional bodies shall not be allowed to discharge the duties of his or her office once the impeachment proceeding begins,” according to the Article. The full text of the November 23, 2022 decision of the Constitutional Bench made public on Thursday had ruled that the proceedings are considered to have begun once the motion is presented in the House of Representatives and sent to the Impeachment Recommendation Committee.
Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre) lawmakers had on April 30, 2017 registered an impeachment motion against Karki. She was suspended the same day following a letter from Manohar Bhattarai, the then general secretary of the Parliament Secretariat, as directed by Speaker Onasari Gharti, saying Karki could no longer carry out her responsibilities.
The Constitutional Bench led by the acting Chief Justice Hari Krishna Karki said the general secretary has no authority to write such a letter, requesting the court administration to stop the chief justice from discharging his or her duties. Neither can the Speaker make such a decision. “The letter from the general secretary is unwarranted and a breach of authority,” said the court order. “Only the House of Representatives has the authority to decide on such matters.”
Not just then Chief Justice Karki, the then chief commissioner of the Commission of Investigation of the Abuse of Authority Lokman Singh Karki and then Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana were also similarly suspended.
Impeachment motions were registered against them in the lower house. It
took six months for the lower house to send the impeachment motion against Rana to the recommendation committee.
The motion that was registered in the parliament secretariat on February 13, 2022, landed with the Impeachment Recommendation Committee after six months only on August 7.
In 2017, the advocates, Singh and Neupane, filed writ petitions at the Supreme Court, challenging the move of the Congress and the Maoist Centre to register an impeachment motion against the then chief justice Karki.
The petitioners argued that the House should not impeach justices just because some parliamentarians are dissatisfied with court verdicts. They also demanded the Constitutional Bench of the apex court to define the criteria for impeachment.
Of the nine charges the lawmakers had levelled against Karki, one was related to a ruling in which the top court had quashed the government’s decision of appointing Jaya Bahadur Chand as the chief of Nepal Police.
Karki’s bench on March 21, 2017 had scrapped the then Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government’s decision to appoint Chand as the inspector general of Nepal Police on February 21 that year even though he was trailing his colleagues in performance appraisal ratings.
The full text of the verdict is in line with the petitioners’ demands. The order said an impeachment motion can only be registered by fully adhering to Article 101 (2) of the constitution.
“One-fourth of the total number of the members of the House of Representatives may move a motion of impeachment against the chief justice of Nepal or a justice of Supreme Court, member of the Judicial Council, chief or official of a constitutional body on the ground of his or her failure to fulfil his or her duties of the office because of serious violation of this constitution and law, incompetence or misconduct or failure to discharge the duties of the office honestly or serious violation of the code of conduct,” the apex court's judgement said.
Talking to the Post, Singh termed the verdict a landmark judgement, saying it now sets conditions not just in registering a motion, but also in the suspension of the accused. “The court has clearly said that no impeachment can be registered against the chief justice, judges or those leading the constitutional bodies just because someone is dissatisfied with their verdict."
Singh added: "As well, they won’t get suspended, so long as the impeachment process doesn’t move ahead. Now, our lawmakers won’t be able to register impeachment motions on a whim.”