KATHMANDU, April 4: Is the independence of the judiciary in Nepal in danger? It is the question many are asking as the recent nominations for vacant judge positions at the Supreme Court and high courts have courted controversy with a section of senior advocates opposing the proposed names citing favoritism and nepotism in the selection process.
On Tuesday, the Judicial Council had recommended three lawyers and two career justices for appointment as justices at the Supreme Court and 18 others for high court judges. Among the recommended to post of SC justice include a member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, a leader of the main opposition party, and a nephew of former chief justice.
A day after the JC proposed the names, senior advocates including Sambhu Thapa and Harihar Dahal on Wednesday boycotted a nationwide conference of justices citing blatant attack on independence of judiciary. They have accused Prime Minister KP Oli's government of treating the judiciary as a ruling party body.
“There is no longer an institution called court. Even those deemed unfit to be permanent judge at the appellate courts have been recommended. Some of those recommended for the Supreme Court and high courts are middlemen. There is need of a broad discussion over some of the nominees,” said senior advocate Thapa.
The recommended names have not gone down well even among cadres of the ruling party. NCP insiders said several leaders including party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal have expressed dissatisfaction over some of the nominations.
“Congratulations to our dutiful comrades, a friend who couldn't make it to the main opposition's central committee and others who are making excellent contribution as kith and kin (of powerful people),” UML central committee member Bishnu Rijal tweeted.
Attacks on judiciary have become frequent since Nepal became federal republic in 2008. In 2017, then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had filed impeachment motion against Chief Justice Sushila Karki. After Oli came to power in February last year, the Judicial Council had sacked former chief justice Gopal Parajuli citing incongruity in date of birth. Oli government then appointed Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana as chief justice undermining the principle of seniority.
Legal experts say the nominees, if confirmed by the parliamentary hearings committee, would turn the court into a subordinate body of the ruling party. Since he took over in February last year, PM Oli has been swift in consolidating power by bringing one after another independent agency under the purview of his office.
Five names recommended for the SC posts include high court judges Prakash Dhungana and Sushmalata Mathema, senior advocate Hari Phuyal, Kumar Regmi and Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma. Dhungana and Mathema currently serve as the chief judge at Patan high court and Surkhet high court respectively. Phuyal, considered close to the ruling Communist Party Nepal, served as attorney general in the then UML government led by Prime Minister Oli in 2016. Regmi is the senior advocate at the SC, while Sharma is a relative of former chief justice Damodar Sharma.
The JC also made recommended 18 names for appointments to the vacant judges positions at the high courts including Bal Mukunda Dawadi who had given controversial order in Godamchaur rape case.