Eternal vigilance

  • Dirty defiance of CJ Parajuli finally brought to an end; now he must be held to account

Mar 16, 2018-

Judicial and political processes in Nepal have always followed an unconventional path. Neither our bureaucrats nor our politicians have been overly conscientious when it comes to adhering to constitutional stipulations and legal provisions, not least when it comes to demonstrating high moral standards in public life. But the events that have occurred over the past month concerning Chief Justice (CJ) Gopal Parajuli have been so shamelessly brazen and horrible, they stand in a league of their own. They made a complete mockery of the due process that the state institutions and those holding high offices are expected to follow.

Discrepancies in Parajuli’s official birth dates--there are as many as five of them--have consistently made headlines these last few years, ever since he has been in the Supreme Court. And his straight-shooting predecessor wanted to set the record straight. When Sushila Karki was the chief justice, she instructed the secretary of the Judicial Council to record Parajuli’s date of retirement as August 5, 2017 in accordance with the Constitution that states that a CJ will be retired if he crosses the age of 65. But when Parajuli succeeded Karki, he ordered that his date of birth be changed via a meeting of the Judicial Council consisting of the CJ, the senior-most Supreme Court (SC) justice, law minister, and two senior advocates, and recorded a new date of retirement: April 29, 2018. This decision presented a legal and moral offence, something that was rightly pointed out by the media.

What has ensued since raises serious questions about Parajuli’s integrity. In response to a Public Interest Litigation on contempt of court against Kantipur daily for reporting on his controversial birth dates, Parajuli put himself on the one-member bench that heard the case and called on the Press Council Nepal, a government appointed body with oversight authority over the press, to stop publication of news against him. It was a clear call for ‘pre-censorship’.

What followed was what we, as free press, aspired for. CJ Parajuli’s action to muzzle the press was condemned nationally and internationally. As the anger against the CJ grew, including in the Supreme Court, several SC justices boycotted the full bench assigned to hear the contempt of court case against Kantipur daily. And on Wednesday, in another unprecedented, if somewhat contentious, move, Judicial Council Secretary Nripadhoj Niraula revoked the birth date recognised by the Judicial Council and recognised the previous birthdate. A letter signed by Secretary Niraula was delivered to CJ Parajuli, confirming that the latter retired on August 5, 2017. And that he no longer remains Chief Justice. Also included in the letter was a tongue-in-the-cheek remark thanking CJ Parajuli for the contributions he made to the judiciary.

CJ Parajuli’s response to being relieved of his duties was to remark on Wednesday night, in an interview with the BBC, that the notice to terminate him was illegal, and that he would continue in his capacity as CJ. It was only after the top political leaders threatened him with impeachment that he tendered his resignation on Thursday afternoon. It is remarkable that Parajuli remained so unrepentant till the very end. He showed a total lack of remorse when confronted with his injustices, and he chose to bluster about the purported illegality of the notice delivered to him rather than to leave office gracefully. Just as his career has been marred by drama, so too is his exit by smeared with scandal.

Now, Deepak Raj Joshi, the senior-most justice of the apex court has set up benches as the acting CJ. And now, we can breathe easy that the judiciary is no longer headed by a man of highly questionable character, who has so soiled the name of the Nepali legal system.

But this is not where Parajuli’s story should end. He may no longer hear cases as a CJ but that is hardly reparation enough considering the magnitude of his injustices. He was driven by personal vendettas and compromised on the ideals of fair trial and natural justice. And he must be brought to book.

According to legal antecedents, now Parliament must exercise its due authority and conduct investigations into Parajuli’s dates of birth, and if he is indeed found to be guilty of forgery, he must be impeached. These are the legal steps that should be followed if Parajuli is truly to be held accountable by means of a transparent and credible judicial process. And only if he is truly brought to book by Parliament will public trust be restored in the legal system.

Published: 16-03-2018 11:31

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