Constitutional Council strays off the agenda, fails to nominate chief justiceMembers discussed package deal on constitutional body vacancies, deputy Speaker says.
With just four days remaining for the retirement of Chief Justice Hari Krishna Karki, the Constitutional Council failed to pick his successor on Tuesday after the council members suggested that all vacant constitutional positions be simultaneously filled.
The chief of the council, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, had earlier been avoiding the meeting, but finally scheduled it for Tuesday after talking to the main opposition leader, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli, on Sunday. However, the meeting concluded without a detailed discussion on the candidate for chief justice.
“We were supposed to discuss the candidate for chief justice. But the topic was little discussed,” deputy Speaker Indira Rana, a member of the council, told the Post. "The meeting was more focused on candidates for other constitutional bodies and electing chairpersons of parliamentary committees."
Along with chief justice, the position of auditor general and an election commissioner, among others, are currently vacant. Candidates for all these positions are also nominated by the council. Council members also discussed appointing chairs for House committees even though the council is not the right forum to deliberate on the matter. Rana said the meeting was more focused on a package deal on all vacancies.
As many as 12 parliamentary committees—10 in the House of Representatives and two joint ones with representatives from both the Houses—are currently headless. Speaker Devraj Ghimire, who also is a council member, has repeatedly drawn the attention of top leaders to the absence of chairs of committees, to no avail.
Earlier, there had been an agreement to elect chairs for three of the committees including the Public Accounts Committee. The remaining nine will be shared among the ruling parties.
Talking to journalists after the meeting, National Assembly chair Ganesh Timilsina said the next meeting called for Thursday will nominate the candidate for chief justice together with candidates for other constitutional bodies.
Though the constitution makes it mandatory to nominate a chief justice candidate a month before the position becomes vacant, Dahal did not call the meeting on time. As per Article 284 of the constitution, Karki’s successor must have been picked by July 5. He retires on Saturday after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.
Constitutional experts say the failure to name a new chief justice shows the council is least bothered about respecting the constitution. "It is an example of utter lack of seriousness in the prime minister and its members," Gopal Krishna Ghimire, president of the Nepal Bar Association, told the Post. The association, which is the umbrella body of lawyers, has repeatedly drawn the attention of the council for timely appointments to constitutional bodies.
The council has prepared a list of 11 justices who qualify to become chief justice. Any justice with three years of experience at the Supreme Court qualifies to become chief justice.
But Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha will be the new chief justice if the council doesn't breach the seniority principle in appointments. His name needs to be approved by the Parliamentary Hearing Committee before the President appoints him. The entire process takes around a month. Shrestha will lead the judiciary as an acting chief justice starting August 6—and until the President officially appoints the chief justice. If appointed to the top post, Shrestha will lead the judiciary until October next year. He will be replaced by Justice Prakash Man Singh Raut.
"The constitution envisioned recommending the chief justice candidate a month before the position became vacant given the lengthy parliamentary hearing process," said Ghimire. "An acting chief justice cannot make bold decisions, especially those concerning political parties and their leaders, as he fears being rejected by the political parties in the parliamentary hearing."