Bill to continue secrecy for judges' property disclosure

Published On: June 15, 2016 11:46 AM NPT By: Nabin Khatiwada/Ashok Dahal

KATHMANDU, June 15:The Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws on Responsibility, Duty and Jurisdiction of Judicial Council has given continuity to an existing provision on keeping the property details of judges secret and undisclosed. 

The bill registered in Parliament includes provisions that members of the Judicial Counci and all the judges should furnish their property details to the council within 60 days of the end of every fiscal year, while newly appointed judges and members should submit such details within 60 days of their appointment. 

However, the amendment bill has also given continuity to a provision on keeping such details secret.

Lawyers and members of civil society have been arguing that the property details of judges should also be made public in order to make the judiciary more transparent. Some lawmakers, during several parliamentary hearings for justices, had asked about the property details of the individuals recommended. Despite these voices, the Ministry of Law and Justice decided to give continuity to the secrecy provision.

"I don't find any rationale behind maintaining secrecy over the property details of judges. The provision rather could portray the judiciary as an island in terms of financial transparency," opined Advocate Sunil Kumar Pokharel, former general secretary of Nepal Bar Association. 

"I cannot find how the provision helps the principle of independence of the judiciary. If the property details are made transparent, it would in turn further empower the judges," he added.

Former member of the Judicial Council, Upendra Keshari Neupane, opined that rather than maintaining the secrecy, the bill could have adopted a provision for the self-declaration of property details ahead of the appointment and after the retirement of judges.

"The rationale behind maintaining secrecy could be that there might be unnecessary comments on the judges if their property details are made public, but it would have been better if some form of transparency was adopted," said Neupane. 

Loophole for appointing 'political cadres'
The amendment bill bars the Judicial Council from appointing any individual with political affiliation at the time of appointment. However, legal experts opine that the clause 'at the time of appointment' provides a loophole.

Then minister for law and justice Narahari Acharya had registered a similar bill in Parliament on December 18, 2014, with a stronger provision baring political cadres from being appointed as judges.

"The bill registered then had clearly defined what constitutes political affiliation and stated that a person who was appointed, elected or nominated to a political position by any political party, could not be appointed as a judge until at least five years after the completion of the tenure," said Neupane, the former member of the council.

However, the bill was withdrawn by the ministry on January 15, 2016. The new amendment bill was registered at Parliament on Monday.

 Monitoring and Oversight Committee
The amendment bill has envisaged a provision for the Judicial Council forming a Judicial Monitoring and Oversight Committee for regular monitoring and oversight of the activities and conduct of judges. 

The proposed new provision states that the committee could make enquiries with judges, judicial staff, lawyers and justice seekers for monitoring the conduct of judges, as per the constitution and law.

The amendment bill has a provision for the Judicial Council forming a three-member probe committee to investigate any judge of a high court or district court if deemed necessary, besides looking into complaints against any judge.

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