The law and the media

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Binita Dahal

For the past year, the judiciary has often been mired in controversy. There was the decision in 2013 to appoint the Chief Justice as a caretaker prime minister to conduct elections, and the controversial move to appoint tainted judges to the Supreme Court.

Most of the criticism came from the legal fraternity and the media. But despite the hullabaloo, the appointments were approved by a parliamentary hearing. Stung by the uproar, the Supreme Court decided to strike back and make an example of Kantipur, Nepal’s widest circulated daily newspaper.

The parliamentary hearing of the Supreme Court judges recommended by the Judicial Council was sharply criticised by most media, starting with by the popular digital portal, Setopati. Kantipur then took up the subject by investigating the background of all the appointed justices. Even when the paper was slapped with a contempt of court against its group chairman, director, editor-in-chief and reporter, it continued its exposes.

During the first hearing of that case, Justice Cholendra Shamser Rana, who was one of the targets of the exposes, reviewed the sub-judice contempt case filed against Kantipur Group. In its second hearing Justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli, whose past judgments and personal details were investigated by Kantipur, ordered publishers and editorial staff of Kantipur to appear in person to explain why they shouldn’t be convicted in contempt of court case.

Most rulings by the courts are not more than two pages, but Parajuli delivered a 11-page tome that tried to prove that Kantipur was on a deliberate crusade to tarnish the image of the independent judiciary.

It was apparent that the Supreme Court was flexing its muscles and warning all journalists by putting Nepal’s most powerful media on the dock. Kantipur itself used the occasion to project its own profile as a champion of press freedom. Last week, on the day of the hearing, it gathered 50 members of its staff, politicians and industrialists in the Supreme Court premises as a show of force.

It was as if the group wanted to influence the court decision by a demonstration of solidarity. It has now become a prestige issue for both the Supreme Court and Kantipur. The paper has reported the case against itself with prominence on the front pages, providing maximum national exposure of its own importance. The publication’s main argument was that the court started its final hearing with the same justices who had previously looked at the case.

Although the group’s lawyers were putting forward a valid legal point, this was a clear breach of provisions of coverage of cases that are subjudice. According to universal juridical principles, one should not try to influence the court directly or indirectly during the period that a case is being heard. The media’s role is to point out the wrongdoings of court, not to stage a demonstration in the court premises during a hearing.

Whatever the past wrongs of the court, the media should also be equally responsible not to undermine the dignity of the independent judiciary. The media cannot appear to be a law unto itself, and not required to abide by it. The aggressive and prominent reporting of the case against itself is also a misuse of media responsibility.

To be sure, the Judicial Committee bypassed candidates with integrity and proven track record for those with questionable pasts, to say the least, when appointing Supreme Court justices. The media did its job by exposing this, but to exact revenge through this contempt case the Supreme Court has gone after the largest target to threaten the rest of the media to behave itself.

It is hard to say which way the verdict will go next week. In the past, the Court has been liberal in contempt cases and journalists have just been slapped on the wrist and cautioned about the law on subjudice cases. This time, positions have hardened, and by its aggressive taunts Kantipur may have exceeded the media’s accepted behaviour in a country that is supposed to respect the rule of law.

@binitadahal

This article was originally published in Nepali Times (http://nepalitimes.com/article/nation/supreme-court-kantipur-contempt-of-court-case,1685)

Enter: Chief Justice Shrestha

Kalyan Shrestha has the challenging task of restoring the integrity of a tarnished Supreme Court, and protecting the separation of powers

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Binita Dahal

The recent decision by the Supreme Court that the existing Truth and Reconciliation Bill did not meet international standards for human rights and justice has sent shock waves through the establishment.

The two former warring sides are now part of the state, and they are on the same side when it comes to evading being answerable to wartime crimes. Predictably, the UCPN(M) and the CPN-M are the least happy with the verdict of the apex court. In fact, the latest collapse of the negotiations over the constitution and the announcement of a series ofstrikes next month by the Maoist-led opposition alliance is an attempt to show this displeasure.

They argue that wartime excesses should be under the jurisdiction of a future TRC, and asked for a repeal of the verdict. They and the other parties want the TRC to just be a dispenser of amnesties and pardons. When the members of the newly formed TRC went to meet the UCPN(M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he directly rejected any move to resolve conflict-era cases through the TRC for which he only wants a limited mandate.

According to the Supreme Court verdict, the TRC cannot investigate already pending cases in the courts and it cannot ask the government to withdraw cases and recommend for amnesty as well.

“We were confused initially about the parallel jurisdiction of the court and TRC but now it is clear that the already pending cases can only be solved by a court, not the Commission,” TRC Chair Surya Kiran Gurung told me last week.

The Supreme Court has struck down provisions in the TRC Act that gave the Commission the right to recommend amnesty to cases of serious human rights violations, and declared that no amnesty can be given without the consent of victims.

The latest verdict has cleared three points:

The TRC has no right to see and investigate the cases which are already pending in the court system.

Conflict era cases will be investigated by the TRC, but if it decides that the case must be filed in the courts then it will recommend this directly to the Attorney General and not through the Ministry of Law as cited in the Act. The Supreme Court has thus taken out the involvement of the government.

Victims consent is required for both reconciliation and amnesty. One of the main dissatisfaction among victims was the provision in the Act which gave the TRC the authority to grant amnesty. The SC verdicthas ruled out the TRC’s role in general amnesty.

Even if the Maoists urge the ruling parties to review the court’s verdict it is not easy for them to file a review petition. Previous SC verdicts have also ruled out political interference in the transitional justice mechanism. There are approximately 1,000 criminal cases from the conflict period pending in the court system and the District Police Office.

Advocate Raman Kumar Shrestha says the verdict will impact on the constitution drafting process since it will open all cases which are currently closed due to the absence of a TRC. As PM, Baburam Bhattarai made history in 2012 by withdrawing nearly 200 cases involving 1,700 people, according to the Ministry of Law. Now, all these cases can be re-opened, and that is why the Maoists are against the verdict.

Another fallout of the SC verdict is that it has brought the two factions of the Maoists closer together, with talks of reunification opening despite their serious differences. This is so that they can pool their combined strength to oppose the Supreme Court verdict. This opens up the question about what the real reasons were behind the split in the Maoists if they have a common stance on war crimes. Maoists of all factions and some sections of the ruling NC-UML combine would like to see all conflict-era cases to be resolved through a political understanding and not through the judiciary.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to review a verdict of the special bench, even when the government agrees to file a review petition. This means the Maoists will try to put pressure on the government by obstructing talks on the constitution and through street protests to try to overturn the verdict.

@binitadahal

This article was originally published in Nepali Times (http://nepalitimes.com/regular-columns/Legalese/new-Chief-Justice-Kalyan-Shrestha,519)

Supreme once more

The new Chief Justice is from a minority within a marginalised community, this is hugely symbolic

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Ram Kumar Prasad Sah, who was sworn in as the Chief Justice last week by the President, takes office at a time when Nepal’s judiciary has fallen into some serious disrepute.

He will be in office for nine months, and after his appointment assured the people through the media that he would not compromise on the independent judiciary at any cost.

The reason this statement sounded a bit defensive was because of the public perception that the previous interim electoral government led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi had compromised on the independence of the judiciary by removing the separation of powers. The Supreme Court has also been tainted by the appointment of six controversial justices earlier this year.

Khil Raj Regmi’s appointment was criticised by legal and media fraternity, and after Regmi stepped down, the gavel went to Damodar Prasad Sharma who immediately came under fire for the appointment of the controversial judges. Though Regmi’s government was successful in managing peaceful, free elections with a huge turnout last year, his decision to head the government undermined the independence of the justice system. Damodar Sharma’s lack of accountability tainted it further.

Sah knows that he has to set a lot of things right. He did speak up against the appointment of the justices by Sharma and wrote a note of dissent against two of the nominees. But, for the moment, he has no option but to retain them in the court.

Sah is from Mahottari and is the fourth Chief Justice from the Madhesi community. Not only is he from the plains, but he is a Sudhi, considered a ‘lower’ caste. His Madhesi predecessors tended to be from the higher castes. This itself is of great symbolic value to show that Nepal’s branches of government are becoming inclusive.

However, tokenism is not enough. Sah will have to prove that he is capable of reforming and cleaning up the judiciary. In his previous verdicts, Sah for his part, has shown decisiveness, competence, and demonstrated a clear vision. He started his career as a section officer in the Supreme Court 40 years ago, and during his long career has never been tainted by controversy except that he once asked for Rs 7 million for his medical treatment in Bangkok.

He has his work cut out: the Supreme Court has a massive backlog of 19,000 cases and not enough judges to clear it up. Sah’s predecessor, Damodar Prasad Sharma, had vowed to reduce the backlog of pending cases from 17,000, but instead the number of cases increased while he was Chief Justice. Previously, Sah was one of the members of Judicial Council, and hopefully, this will address the concerns of lawyers about Chief Justice appointments.

Sah has said that he will prioritise cases of rape and human trafficking, and clear them within three months. He has also promised a paperless court, which sounds a bit ambitious. Even so, he took a good first step of publishing the list of cases at 10am on the first day of his appointment. He has ordered Justices to be at the bench by 11am promptly and believes in a good start being a job half done.

A Transparency International report has shown repeatedly that there is massive corruption inside Nepal’s court system. Sah will have to tackle growing corruption within the judiciary and lessen the influence of power brokers in verdicts. Since graft is so ingrained, and almost regarded as standard operating procedure, Sah will need all the commitment he can muster to tackle corruption in the courts. Only then can he reassure the public that the Supreme Court is an independent arbiter of justice.

@binitadahal

‘विशेषको फैसलामा के–के मात्र त्रुटि छ भन्नु, आँपका रुखमुनि धान फल्छ र?’

किरण भण्डारी/विनिता दाहाल

‘मलाई हिजैदेखि चिने/नचिनेकाले फोन गरिरहेका छन्, त्यहाँ पनि साथीहरूले बधाइ दिएरै हैरान पार्ने हुन्,’ धापासीको डेरामा नागरिकसँग संक्षिप्त कुरा गर्दै कार्कीले भनिन्, ‘अर्कालाई थुनामा पठाउने फैसला गरेर के बधाइ खाइरहनु!’

उनी यो फैसलामा सहधर्मीहरूले भनेझैं ‘साहसिक निर्णय’को विशेषण लगाउन तयार छैनन्। ‘अग्रज न्यायाधीशहरूले पहिलेका फैसलामा प्रतिपादन गर्नुभएको सिद्धान्तअनुसार गरेका हौं, त्यसैले हामी न आँटिला हौं, न काँतर,’ उनले भनिन्।

न्यायाधीश समाजले बुधबार ललितपुरको होटल हिमालयनमा गरेको ‘भावी संविधानमा न्यायपालिकाको स्वरुप’ कार्यक्रममा प्रधानन्यायाधीश खिलराज रेग्मी ११ बजेको निर्धारित समयअघि नै आइसकेका थिए।

सर्वोच्च र पुनरावेदनका न्यायाधीशहरू आउने क्रम चलिरहेकै थियो। चियाको चुस्की लिँदै उनीहरू झुन्डझुन्डमा गफिइरहेका थिए। चर्चाको पात्र थिए, बहालवाला मन्त्री जयप्रकाश प्रसाद गुप्तालाई भ्रष्टाचारी ठहर गरी जेल हाल्ने न्यायाधीशद्वय सुशीला कार्की र तर्कराज भट्ट।
सबै हलसामुन्नेको भर्‍याङतिर आँखा तन्काइरहेका थिए।
‘जेपी गुप्तालाई कैद हाल्ने न्यायाधीशहरूलाई बधाइ दिएर कार्यक्रम सुरु गरौं भनेको,’ समाजका सदस्य एवं पाटन पुनरावेदनका एक न्यायाधीशले भने, ‘बहालवाला मन्त्री र सत्तारुढ दलको अध्यक्षलाई जेल हाल्न साहस गर्नेको कदर त गर्नुपर्‍यो नी।’
टेलिभिजन पत्रकार पनि भर्‍याङतिर क्यामरा तेर्स्याएर झुम्मिएका थिए। दुई दशकदेखि सत्ता राजनीतिको केन्द्रमा रहेका गुप्तालाई भ्रष्टाचारी ठहर गर्ने कार्की र भट्टलाई क्यामरामा कैद गरेर ‘एअर’ गरिहाल्ने हतारो उनीहरूलाई थियो।
अझ सर्वोच्चकी एकमात्र महिला न्यायाधीश कार्कीको प्रतीक्षामा झन् सबै व्यग्र बनेका थिए। प्रधानन्यायाधीशको रोलक्रममा रहेकी उनकै नेतृत्वमा फैसला हुनु उनको ‘क्रेज’ को कारण हो। चिया गफमा सर्वोच्चका वरिष्ठ न्यायाधीशहरू दामोदरप्रसाद शर्मा, रामकुमारप्रसाद शाह र प्रकाश वस्तीहरू ‘फैसलाले न्यायालयप्रतिको जनआस्था बढाएको’ भन्दै प्रफुल्लित देखिन्थे।
तर, फैसलापछि ‘सेलेब्रिटी’ बनेका दुवै न्यायाधीश कार्यक्रममा आएनन्।
कार्यक्रममा किन नजानुभएको?
‘मलाई हिजैदेखि चिने/नचिनेकाले फोन गरिरहेका छन्, त्यहाँ पनि साथीहरूले बधाइ दिएरै हैरान पार्ने हुन्,’ धापासीको डेरामा नागरिकसँग संक्षिप्त कुरा गर्दै कार्कीले भनिन्, ‘अर्कालाई थुनामा पठाउने फैसला गरेर के बधाइ खाइरहनु!’
तीन दशक वकालत गरेर वरिष्ठ अधिवक्ता हुँदै न्यायाधीश भएकी कार्की ‘फैसला बधाइ लिनेदिने विषय नभएको’ बताउँछिन्। ‘फेरि न्यायाधीशले मनखुसी फैसला गर्न पाउने पनि त हैन,’ उनी भन्छिन्, ‘प्रमाण मिसिल हेरेर संविधान, ऐन, कानुन, सर्वोच्चले प्रतिपादन गरेको नजिर टेकेर गर्ने न हो।’
उनी यो फैसलामा सहधर्मीहरूले भनेझैं ‘साहसिक निर्णय’को विशेषण लगाउन तयार छैनन्। ‘अग्रज न्यायाधीशहरूले पहिलेका फैसलामा प्रतिपादन गर्नुभएको सिद्धान्तअनुसार गरेका हौं, त्यसैले हामी न आँटिला हौं, न काँतर,’ उनले भनिन्।
उनी यो फैसलाको जस पूर्व प्रधानन्यायाधीश रामप्रसाद श्रेष्ठ र अहिलेका रेग्मीले स्थापित गरेको नजिरलाई दिनुपर्ने बताउँछिन्। उनीहरूको इजलासले झन्डै एक वर्षअघि पूर्वमन्त्री चिरञ्जीवी वाग्लेको फैसला गरेपछि अकुत सम्पत्तिका मुद्दाले गति पाएका छन्।
वाग्ले, बहुदलकालमा विभिन्न संस्थानका कार्यकारी प्रमुख रहेका रामाज्ञाप्रसाद चतुर्वेदी र अर्थ मन्त्रालयका पूर्व सहसचिव ईश्वर पोखरेलको अकुत सम्पत्ति मुद्दामा कृषि, व्यवसाय वा अन्य आयको गणना गर्ने प्रतिपादित सिद्धान्त त्यसपछिका फैसलामा आधार बनेका छन्। जस लिन नतम्सिए पनि वाग्लेबाहेक भ्रष्टाचारका सबै चर्चित फैसला वा आदेशमा कार्कीले नै सुनुवाइ गरिरहेकी छन्, चाहे त्यो पूर्वमन्त्री खुमबहादुर खड्का होस् वा गोविन्दराज जोशी।
चतुर्वेदीलाई रेग्मी र उनको इजलासले नै भ्रष्टाचारी ठहर गरी डेढ वर्ष कैद, १ करोड ३९ लाख बिगो र त्यत्ति नै जरिवाना गरेका हुन्। ‘चतुर्वेदीको मुद्दामा बैंक ब्यालेन्स, खेतीपाती, फलफूल, घरजग्गाको आम्दानी गणना गर्दा वस्तुगत सिद्धान्त अपनाइएको छ। त्यसले अकुत सम्पत्तिका अरू मुद्दा छिन्न सजिलो होला,’ उनले भनिन्।
तीन वर्षअघि सर्वोच्चको अस्थायी न्यायाधीश भएकी उनी एक वर्षमै स्थायी हुन पाइन्। विराटनगरमा वकालतमा जमे पनि त्यतिबेला राजधानीमा उनी ‘लो प्रोफाइल’मै थिइन्। लोकतन्त्र स्थापनापछि संविधान मस्यौदा आयोग सदस्यका रूपमा उनको ख्याती काठमाडौंमा छरियो। न्यायाधीशको संसदीय सुनुवाइमा कार्कीको प्रस्तुतिले धेरै सभासद्को ध्यान खिचेको थियो।
न्यायमूर्तिका रूपमा पनि उनको छवि चम्किँदैछ। सर्वोच्च स्रोत भन्छ, ‘वर्षौंदेखि थन्क्याइएको खुमबहादुर खड्काको मुद्दामा झगडिया झिकाउने, गोविन्दराज जोशीको मुद्दाको तथ्यमा प्रवेश गर्नू भनी विशेष फर्काउने र भन्सार, कर, सडक, सिँचाइका पूर्व हाकिमहरूको मुद्दामा कठोर आदेश यिनै महिला सहितको इजलासले दिइरहेको छ।’
विद्यार्थीकालमा उनी नेविसंघकी शुभेच्छुक र समर्थक थिइन्। उनका बाबु डिल्लीबहादुर कार्की कोइराला परिवारसँग निकट भएकाले उनको राजनीतिक झुकाव ‘प्रजातान्त्रिक’ थियो। कांग्रेस नेताहरूका अनुसार खुमबहादुर खड्का भारत प्रवासमा रहँदा बीसको दशक अन्ततिरै कार्कीसँग चिनाजानी थियो। दुई वर्षदेखि आलटाल गरेर थन्क्याइएको खड्काको मुद्दा उनको बेन्चमा पर्नेबित्तिकै सुनुवाइलाई तीव्रता दिइहालिन्।
‘न्यायाधीशको अगाडि कोही पनि धनी, गरिब, ठूलो, सानो, महिला, पुरुष, परिचित, अपरिचित हुँदैन,’ उनी भन्छिन्, ‘मन पनि कोमल वा कठोर बनाउन पाइन्न।’
आफैं कुनै ठूलो महŒवाकांक्षा बोकेर न्यायाधीश नभएको र भविष्यका लागि कुनै चाहना पनि नपालेकाले ‘कागजमा जे देखियो त्यही फैसला लेख्ने’ गरेको उनले बताइन्।
विराटनगरमा लामो वकालत गर्दा बनाएको ‘सुशीला दिदी’को हक्की छवि उनले न्यायाधीशको भूमिकामा पनि कायमै राखेकी छन्। ‘मैले बिएल नै पढ्नुमा संयोग छ,’ उनले भनिन्, ‘वकिल न्यायाधीश त त्यसपछि न भएको हुँ, जे काम गरे पनि मेरो स्वभावमा परिवारको संस्कार झल्किन्छ होला।’
कार्की परिवारले छोराछोरीमा कुनै भेदभाव गर्दैनथ्यो। महेन्द्र मोरङबाट मनोविज्ञान र अंग्रेजीमा बिए पास गरेपछि उनलाई एमए पढ्न बनारस पठाइयो। वनरास हिन्दु विश्वविद्यालय त्यतिेबला भारतको नामी शैक्षिक केन्द्र थियो। त्यतिबेलाका चर्चित कांग्रेसी युवानेता दुर्गा सुवेदीसँग वनारसमा उनको चिनाजानी गाढा भयो। पछि उनीहरू विवाह बन्धनमा बाँधिए।
त्यहाँबाट उनले २०३० सालमा राजनीतिशास्त्रमा एमए पास गरिन्। पिएचडीका लागि उनी छानिएकी थिइन्। तर कांग्रसीहरूसँगको संगतले उता बस्न त्यति सहज भएन। उनी विराटनगर फर्किइन्। क्याम्पस पढाउन थालिन्।
ठूलो बुवा तोरणबहादुर र दाजुहरू वकिल थिए। उनलाई नपढी बस्न मन लागेन। ‘प्राइभेट बिएल दिएर विराटनगरको पहिलो महिला वकिल भएँ,’ उनले भनिन्।
२०३५ सालमा लाइसेन्स लिएर उनले वकालत थालिन्। अदालतका कर्मचारी, न्यायाधीश कोही पनि महिला हुन्थेनन्। न्यायाधीशलाई ‘श्रीमान्’ भन्दै अदालतमा एक्ली महिला भएर काम गर्दा असजिलो पर्दैनथ्यो?
‘अहँ, मलाई बुवाले छोराजस्तै हुर्काउनुभएको थियो। हामी जिम्दार परिवारका भएर पनि हो कि पुरुषसँग हच्किनुपरेन,’ तीन दशकअघिको ती दिन सम्झँदै उनी भन्छिन्, ‘बरु एकैदिन धनकुटा, धरान, विराटनगरको अदालत पनि भ्याइयो।’
पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्