Nepal’s judiciary, especially the apex court, has long been mired in partisan politics and factionalism. Nothing could have illustrated this more starkly than an interview the outgoing Chief Justice Sushila Karki gave to a weekly magazine, revealing her side of the story: how Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal called her to his place, and asked her to defer the hearing and verdict in a corruption against the then chief of the anti-corruption constitutional body.
Karki, who retires on Wednesday due to her age, claimed she really wanted to reform and cleanse the Supreme Court but failed largely because of political interference and non-cooperation from different stake holders. Her parting shot was this: the Executive is plagued by corruption, and so is what she called the ‘political level’. Judges, she said, often compromise their impartiality by seeking post-retirement appointment.
There are mixed feelings in the public and the media about her which swing between two extremes. Nepal’s leading media groups–Kantipur and Himal–both have projected her as the ‘cleanest CJ’ ever in the country while others have said she acted with a ‘coterie’ of judges and was clearly inclined towards some political parties, dispensing judgments accordingly.
That the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist made the withdrawal of an impeachment motion filed against her by members of the ruling coalition Maoist and Nepali Congress,the precondition to allow Parliament to run gave credence to that view. Karki assigned most cases of political import to a set of particular judges which was not only unusual but also infuriated certain judges in the apex court.
Interestingly, both media groups have benefitted from her her verdicts. While she ruled in favour of the Kantipur group in a contempt of court case, she disqualified Lokman Singh Karki, the controversial chief of the anti-corruption body who had been targeted by the Himal group. According to Karki this went against the wishes of what Prime Minister Dahal told her.
CJ Karki displayed her obstinacy on several occasions. She chose not to call a meeting of the judicial council to recommend her successor as she does not get along with Gopal Parajuli who will be officiating as the CJ after Karki retires. The strong willed CJ has skipped many state functions after she fell out with Dahal and House Speaker Onsari Gharti, especially after the duo’s role in the impeachment motion which led to her suspension last month.
She admitted she was ‘called’ by the Prime Minister on at least three occasions to his residence, and each time she went there, he wanted a favour on one or other case. “I would simply sip tea for five minutes and vanish’. But in the process of blaming the Executive and the legislature, she revealed the state of affairs of the judiciary and the lapses or violations of the code of conduct by the CJ herself. Why did the CJ accept the invitation of the chief executive of the government who was also a respondent in many of the cases under her consideration?
Attorney General Raman Shrestha in the court alleged that CJ Karki had met many other litigants also privately, bending the rules and conventions in arbitrarily reviewing certain cases which had been disposed of in the past by other judges.
Nepal’s apex court is packed with nominees of political parties and that of international donors — it is as discredited as political parties. However, her departure only enhances the challenge of the new CJ to re-establish the lost credibility and avoid groupism in the Supreme Court.