KATHMANDU: The Supreme Court today granted leave to the Office of the Attorney General to file a review petition against its division bench’s verdict that commuted the life sentence of murder convict former deputy inspector general of Armed Police Force Ranjan Koirala.
Koirala, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his wife Geeta Dhakal, walked out of jail on July 23 after serving only eight and-a- half years, as a division bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Sumsher JB Rana and Justice Tej Bahadur KC commuted his sentence on June 29, invoking Section 188 of Court Management of erstwhile Country Code (Muluki Ain) and Section 17 (a) of Criminal Offence (Determination of Punishment and Implementation) Act, 2017.
The verdict caused public outcry and former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai demanded that the justices who delivered the verdict be impeached. People protested at Maitighar Mandala, demanding impeachment of the chief justice.
Normally an SC verdict is final, but in rare cases where the apex court’s verdict goes against its own precedent and when new evidence emerges, then the apex court grants leave for judicial review.
Leave for judicial review was granted by a full bench of justices Bam Kumar Shrestha, Prakash Kumar Dhungana and Kumar Regmi.
Office of the Attorney General had filed a judicial review petition at the apex court on Friday, arguing that the decision to commute the life sentence of Koirala by a division bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana and Justice Tej Bahadur KC was erroneous, as it wrongly invoked Section 188 of the Court Management Chapter of the erstwhile Country Code (Muluki Ain) and Criminal Offence (Determination of Punishment and Implementation) Act.
The Supreme Court observed that Koirala’s attempt to dump the body of his wife and destroy evidence did not make it look like ordinary incident or accidental incident.
The court said it was granting leave for judicial review as the division bench’s verdict violated the precedent set in Shanti BK versus Government of Nepal, Government of Nepal versus Jugat Sada, Government of Nepal versus Sher Bahadur Basnet and Kedar Majhi versus Government of Nepal with regard to the invoking of Section 188 of the Court Management Chapter of erstwhile Country Code.
Spokesperson for the OAG Sanjeeb Raj Regmi said the SC agreed with almost all the arguments furnished by his office in the review petition and the full bench of the SC would have to settle all the questions raised in today’s order.
The OAG stated in its review petition that the SC’s decision to invoke Section 188 of the Court Management Chapter of the Country Code was wrong as it was a procedural law and it had already been repealed.
The court cannot invoke the provision of the act that has been repealed, OAG Spokesperson Regmi said.
According to Regmi, the Supreme Court had set a precedent about the invoking of Section 188 of the Court Management Chapter of the Country Code, saying that the defendant’s act must appear like an accident and homicide should not appear like a premeditated act, but in this case, both elements were missing, Regmi argued.
“Case file shows that Koirala intentionally killed his wife and went to Makawanpur to dump her body.
Even the division bench of the SC that commuted Koirala’s sentence has accepted that Koirala intentionally killed his wife,” he added.
He said the apex court’s decision to invoke Section 17 (a) of Criminal Offence (Determination of Punishment and Implementation) was also wrong. “In order for 17 (a) to apply, the defendant(s) must confess to their crime and other evidence should corroborate their confession. But in this case, Koirala had pleaded not guilty before the court,” Regmi argued.
Koirala had been serving the sentence since 22 January 2012, the day he was arrested on the charge of murdering his wife. Koirala had killed her at their Budhanilkantha residence.
Koirala later took his wife’s body to Tistung in Makawanpur district and burnt it to destroy evidence.
Kathmandu District Court heard the case for two-and-a-half years and held Koirala guilty of murdering his wife, condemning him to life imprisonment with confiscation of his entire property.
Life imprisonment in the case of Koirala counts to a 20-year jail sentence as per the old Country Code that was in effect then. The Appellate Court later upheld the district court’s verdict.
The SC commuted his sentence, with the division bench observing that he should be released to take care of his children, stating, “The punishment is too much for him.”
Recently, the SC overturned its own decision through review petition in cases involving former princess Prerana Rajya Laxmi Devi Singh and former chief of Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority Lok Man Singh Karki.
The apex court barred Singh from inheriting 15 ropani and one ana land in Chhauni area and nullified Karki’s appointment to the CIAA.
CJ Rana, justices Tej Bahadur KC, Bam Kumar Shrestha, Prakash Kumar Dhungana, Kumar Regmi, Sapana Pradhan Malla and Ananda Mohan Shrestha will have to recuse themselves from the case involving Koirala.
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