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Brute justice

Brute justice

The recently appointed 18 High Court judges have taken their oath of office. The five new judges nominated for the Supreme Court will face a parliamentary hearing in the next few days. Yet the storm of controversy the Judicial Coun­cil’s judge nominations kicked up refuses to subside. Rightly so. At stake is no less than the judiciary’s inde­pendence and impartiality.


The all-powerful Nepal Communist Party runs the federal government. Likewise, Nepali Congress is easi­ly the single biggest opposition party. Even as the two parties differ on myriad other issues, they were ready to divide the judicial nominations among themselves, making a mockery of the concept of parliamentary check and balance. The Congress likes to rail against ‘creeping authoritarianism’ of the communist govern­ment. Yet few take it seriously because on matters of mutual interest, it readily colludes with members of the same government. No wonder PM Oli so easily dis­misses the opportunistic NC leaders.


With a clear majority of political nominees, the composition of the Judicial Council that nominates high-level judges is flawed too. In its current form, it is hard to see it acting impartially and picking judges based on their qualification and competence rather than their closeness to this or that political party. A recent conference of judges rightly asked for the coun­cil’s rejigging so that those from a judicial background are in the majority.


What is happening right now is state capture by stealth, as the ruling alliance slowly tightens its grip on all levers of power. The compromised judiciary, instead of being neutral arbiters of disputes, including the con­stitution’s sole interpreter, will increasingly be behold­en to their political masters, to grave consequences for the health of Nepali democracy.


The NCP already has an absolute hold on the execu­tive and the legislative and only the judiciary seemed capable of holding it to account. But on current form we will see an increasingly pliable judiciary that has no authority besides rubberstamping the government position on vital issues. The parliamentary hearing committee can still stop this travesty of justice at the apex court. Even though the committee too is packed with members of the ruling alliance, people’s chosen representatives are expected to act in the public inter­est. Otherwise, why have such hearings at all?