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Judicial Council decision to pick judges draws flak from a section of legal fraternity

  • Senior advocates question competence of appointees, accuse council of nepotism  
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Apr 3, 2019-

Judicial Council’s decision to recommend five Supreme Court justices and 18 High Court judges have come under fire from many senior advocates questioning the ‘competence’ of a number of appointees, with lawyers demanding discussions over justices selection criteria.

The council on Tuesday recommended five names—two from High Court chief judges and three from advocates—to fill the vacant positions of justices at the Supreme Court.

They are Chief Judge of Patan High Court Prakash Kumar Dhungana and Chief Judge of Surkhet High Court Sushma Lata Mathema; senior advocate Kumar Regmi; advocates duo Hari Prasad Phuyal and Manoj Kumar Sharma.

As soon as the JC decision was revealed, lawyers have started criticising some of the appointments claiming that the judiciary would have influences of the ‘relatives’ of former justices. “It looks like judiciary has been heading towards hereditary rule like in Rana regime,” said a senior advocate, requesting anonymity.

With this development, advocates have urged the authorities to expedite the discussions on the criteria of selecting the justices especially from the advocates.

“They should be selected on merit basis considering three major issues—accountability, transparency and their countable contribution,” said former attorney general Mukti Pradhan, adding that the discussions must begin to set a certain criteria for selecting the justices from among the legal practitioners.

The concerns of the lawyers were focused on the appointment of ‘junior’ lawyers and some relatives of former Justices.

One of the most vocal critics of Tuesday’s JC decision was senior advocate Shambhu Thapa who said the council has not selected some of the appointees on merit basis thus bringing its own competency into question.

 

“Chief justice and law minister must provide the criteria of their selection as this is the public issue,” Thapa said, adding that the council should make such appointments on merit basis as in all the professions the candidates must possess certain skills. “If the concerns are not taken seriously, all the legal professionals and office bearers must think of this development seriously.”

The senior advocates have also stressed on the need to begin discussion over the justices’ appointed by the council. They have expressed serious concerns over maintaining the independence and transparency of the judiciary.

All the criticisms were focused on the recommendation of Manoj Kumar Sharma for the Supreme Court justice besides few among those appointed for the high-courts.

Many advocates have also questioned over the appointment of the relatives of the former Chief Justices—Damodar Prasad Sharma, Ram Kumar Shah and Justice Bharat Raj Upreti among others.  Advocate Manoj Kumar Sharma, who has been recommended as SC justice, is the cousin of former chief justice Damodar Prasad Sharma.

According to lawyers, Navaraj Thapaliya, who has been appointed as the high-court judge, is the son-in-law of council member Ram Prasad Sitaula’s elder brother. Sources also claimed that Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana also had some interest on Thapaliya.

While relatives of the ruling Nepal Communist Party leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel, were also picked as high court judges. Nilam Poudel is the niece of DPM Pokhrel.

Renuka Shah is the daughter of former chief justice Ram Kumar Shah, while Anju Upreti Dhakal is the daughter of late SC justice Bharat Raj Upreti, who had resigned after he was refused promotion. He later committed suicide on May 24, 2015.

The council has also appointed ‘controversial’ Lalitpur District Court Judge Balmukunda Dawadi. The council seems to have tried to make the appointment inclusive but that too has not remained far from criticism.

“The JC seems to accommodate inclusive candidates but the backgrounds of those who have been recommended are questionable,” said former attorney general Pradhan.

The council has decided to appoint advocate Anju Upreti Dhakal, whose license number is 5631, to replace Judge of Biratnagar High Court Umesh Raj Poudel as he retires on April 16. Lawyer’ major concern was the seniority issue, as Dhakal will be down the pecking order to three of her juniors—Dal Kumar Khadka (7240), Ujjwal Shukla (8407) and Navaraj Thapaliya (8935)—as the council appointed the three on Tuesday pending swearing-in.

Political leaning of the recommended justices was another major concern among the advocates. “Parties have divided their share which is evident from their choice of advocates,” said a senior advocate, requesting anonymity.

Senior advocate Thapa, however, is more forthcoming, saying: “It’s clear that there is political influence in the selection.”

Former Supreme Court justice Balaram KC said the council should have selected the lawyers who have proved competency besides considering their legal status of their law firms and clearance of taxes, among others.

“Their legal advice and appearance in the Supreme Court should also be counted while considering their selection,” said KC, adding that careers judges should also be kept on the priority list.

KC also called on the council to justify its appointments. “If it fails to do so, its decision will be controversial as in previous appointments,” he said.

Published: 03-04-2019 06:59

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