Nepal’s Supreme Court’s judges revolt against Chief Justice facing integrity questions

Serious trouble has been brewing in Nepal’s top court after its judges on Monday refused to attend the meeting called by Chief Justice Cholender Shumsher Rana, who has been facing allegations of compromising the integrity of the judiciary

Oct 25, 2021
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Nepal’s Supreme Court

Serious trouble has been brewing in Nepal’s top court after its judges on Monday refused to attend the meeting called by Chief Justice Cholender Shumsher Rana, who has been facing allegations of compromising the integrity of the judiciary. Rana’s position on the top judicial post has almost become untenable after an open revolt by his colleagues. 

In the heart of the whole controversy lies the allegation that he had allegedly demanded - according to Nepalese media reports - “his share” of power in the current cabinet of the government-led Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The media report claimed Justice Rana demanded at least two posts for his relatives. 

Importantly, Deuba came to power through an order in July passed by a Supreme Court bench led by Justice Rana. The suspicion grew after the ruling coalition led by Nepali Congress appointed Gajendra Hamal as the Minister for Industries in its recent cabinet expansion. Hamal, a relative of Justice Rana, was just a district-level leader in the party. 

When the controversy grew, Hamal resigned from his post three days after his appointment, which further fueled the suspicion. In a statement last week, the Supreme Court refuted these allegations, terming them all “baseless.” 

However, the whole controversy only put the spotlight on the possibility of the compromised integrity of the country’s top judicial institution.  From former judges to legal and constitutional experts demanded clarity on the issue. 

“I wonder if Nepal’s judiciary is on the verge of falling into an abyss or it already has,” Former Supreme Court Justice Balram KC was quoted as saying by The Kathmandu Post. “I can’t believe the judiciary is in the business of trading justice for some interests like a share in the Cabinet,” he added. 

This is not the first time Rana courted controversy over his alleged political dealings. Nepal, which has been gripped by political instability due to shaky political alliances to form the government, has passed a series of ordinances in the last year. Several of them were controversial and sought to appoint people in key constitutional positions, bypassing the established mechanism. 

Justice Rana, a member of these appointment committees, cleared these controversial names, including people considered close to him. 

Monday's meeting called by Justice Rana to discuss the issue was scheduled without consulting other judges-- a departure from established norms. On Sunday, a delegation of the Nepal Bar Association had also met with him. 

Considering the current political environment, the role of the judiciary becomes even more crucial. Extreme decisions--including dissolving parliament twice that were taken in the last one-year period - by political executives have somewhat become a norm, without giving much importance to constitutional validities of these steps. 

People look up to the apex court to curb the growing autocratic tendencies of the political brass. The least that Nepal can afford this time is to have a judiciary as compromised as the executive, political analysts are saying. After all, a democratic Nepal is not even two decades old and is still growing through testing phases.   

(SAM)