The worst part about the parliamentary hearing process of the proposed Chief Justice Deepak Raj Joshee was that it was never supposed to come that far. If Joshee was unfit to be chief justice, he was surely unfit to be a justice of the Supreme Court as well. With his questionable academic credentials and a history of troubling decisions in lower courts, how did he get through the vetting processes of first the judiciary and then the parliament when he was first nominated for the apex court?
Not just in Joshee’s case but generally too there is a lot of politicking in the appointment of senior judges in Nepal. Not that other supposedly more mature democracies are free from this malaise. The American president invariably appoints Supreme Court judges along partisan lines and the Senate hearing committee is likewise divided along party lines. But where the American and Nepali systems differs the most is that a controversial figure like Joshee, who apparently failed to clear his school leaving exams, would never have been considered for such an important role to start with. (Even Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have impeccable academic and intellectual credentials.)
Another big difference is that while the Nepali parliamentary hearings are considered no more than formalities to rubberstamp the names proposed by the executive, similar hearings in more mature democracies involve rigorous vetting. This is because the concept of separation of powers is already institutionalized there. On the other hand, the reason there was such skepticism about Joshee’s hearing was because hearing committee members were seen as taking cues from the executive.
On the positive side, the proposal of Joshee as chief justice again highlighted the vital role that the media plays in upholding democratic principles in Nepal. Were it not for front-page exposés of Joshee’s checkered past, the parliamentary hearing committee could have easily waved through his name. (Of course, if the ruling coalition wanted Joshee as chief justice, it was in a position to successfully push his name in the committee, never mind the vetting process.)
It is thus vital that we put in place a system that keeps bad eggs from contaminating an all-important institution like the Supreme Court. Pluck them out early. The appointment of the head of the supreme law interpreting body of the land is not something to be taken lightly.
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