Courting an impasse

Nepal’s apex court is now a toothless institution with questionable independence

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: April 1, 2013 10:17 pm

Nepal’s apex court is now a toothless institution with questionable independence

Nepal’s Supreme Court seems to have lost much of its authority after the incumbent chief justice also took over as the country’s executive head. While hearings on cases questioning CJ Khil Raj Regmi’s appointment have been postponed,various government departments are taking decisions on matters sub judice.

The SC appears to be in a quandary on how to conduct hearings involving its own boss. So far,the court has only asked Regmi,through an interim order,that he not identify himself as the CJ as long as he continues as the executive head. But ignoring the bar community,especially the Nepal Bar Association,which has taken a rigid stand on the principle of separation of powers,may not be possible for the court. Some decisions taken by the Regmi government,and endorsed by the president,seem to have made the SC more suspicious about the government’s lack of respect for the judiciary. President Ram Baran Yadav administered the oath of office to Regmi against their assurances that they would wait till the court verdict on the petition asking for separation of powers. Instead,the president has used his extraordinary powers to amend some 25 articles of the interim constitution to “legitimise” the CJ’s appointment as executive head and arm him with sweeping powers,reducing the apex court to a helpless institution.

President Yadav also endorsed the Regmi cabinet’s decision regarding the appointment of a five-member election commission,although three of them,including the chief commissioner,had completed their term — an issue pending before the SC. All this has created the impression that the CJ-led government has taken the apex court for a ride,with its independence largely compromised.

But as always,key actors,especially in the diplomatic community,see the apex court and its chief as the “most acceptable and independent” entity capable of conducting free and fair polls,ignoring the opinion held by the majority of domestic political actors. US Ambassador Peter Bodde sort of appealed to people to participate in the election,and Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad assured Regmi his government would provide all the support in conducting elections.

There are however,signs of a cautious review of the situation by some political parties. The hope that elections will take place by early June is fast fading. What the votaries of the CJ-led government have forgotten is that judicial independence is vital for the credibility and effectiveness of democracy.

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