KATHMANDU, June 21: Even though some posts of judges are lying vacant in the three-tier judiciary, no appointments will be made until the ongoing lockdown enforced to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is lifted completely, highly-placed government sources said.
"Since the incumbent judges are also not working during the lockdown, there is no point in making new appointments of judges now," a highly placed source told Republica Online.
The Judicial Council (JC) headed by Chief Justice Cholednra SJB Rana has adopted a strategy to appoint judges after the complete withdrawal of the lockdown in order to expedite the process of settling the huge number of backlog cases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Declaring the lockdown period as the 'zero hour' for the judicial tasks and giving relaxation to the people to attend the court within 30 days, all the proceedings in relation to court cases are being halted now. Court officials and legal experts said that there would be serious problems to manage the hearings and the public after lifting the lockdown imposed to fight coronavirus. Around 30,000 cases are pending at the apex court while more than 150,000 cases are sub-judice at the high and district courts.
Sources said Chief Justice Rana recently discussed with his senior colleagues on the appointment of judges to the vacant positions in order to expedite the proceedings of cases after the relaxation of the lockdown. During the discussion, some of the senior judges suggested to the CJ not to appoint judges during the lockdown as the government itself is facing problems for paying salaries to the incumbent officials from the treasury of the government.
Two positions of justices are set to be vacant at the Supreme Court after the retirement of Justice Dambar Bahadur Shahi a few days ago. Similarly, three positions of chief judge and over a dozen positions of judges are vacant in various high courts and district courts now. A few days ago, Chief Judge of Pokhara High Court, Yagya Basyal got compulsory retirement due to the age bar and if the Judicial Council does not take any further decision, another Chief Judge Hari Prasad Pokhrel is also set to retire on July 20.
Even though the JC made attempts to appoint former JC member Padam Baidik in the Supreme Court six months ago, the process of appointment was halted after criticism from various quarters including the Nepal Bar Association. Baidik had resigned from the JC position when he received green signals from Chief Justice Rana and ruling NCP Chairman Pushpakamal Dahal for his promotion as a justice at the apex court.
Sources, however, claimed that Baidik's appointment is still highly likely as he was put on hold for a 'cooling period' and if he does not get the chance, another former lawyer Dinmani Pokhrel may get the chance from the quota of the erstwhile CPN (Maoist). High courts’ chief judges Kumar Chudal and Hari Kumar Pokhrel, among others, are also likely to be promoted as apex court justices, according to sources.