The Supreme Court today overturned its division bench's verdict to commute jail term of murder convict Ranjan Koirala a former deputy inspector general of Armed Police Force.

The decision was passed by a full bench of Acting Chief Justice Deepak Kumar Karki and justices Tanka Bahadur Moktan and Kumar Chudal.

Koirala, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering his wife Geeta Dhakal, walked out of jail on 23 July 2020 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 29 June 2020, 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 government had argued that the SC division bench's decision to invoke mercy clause to commute Koirala's sentence was wrong as he intentionally killed Geeta and went to Makawanpur to dump her body. The SC had commuted Koirala's 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." The verdict had caused public outcry and former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai had demanded that the justices who delivered the verdict be impeached. People had protested at Maitighar Mandala, demanding impeachment of the chief justice.

The case was heard again after the SC granted leave for judicial review. Normally, an SC verdict is final, but the SC grants leave of judicial review when it thinks that a particular court has gone against its own precedent and when new evidence emerges in the case. Leave for judicial review was granted by a full bench of jus- ala tices Bam Kumar Shrestha, Prakash Kumar Dhungana, and Kumar Regmi.

Koirala had been serving the sentence since 22 January 2012, the day he was arrested on the charge of murdering his wife at their Budhanilkantha residence.

According to the case file, 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 Koirala's case is 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.

Spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General Sanjeeb Raj Regmi told THT that Koirala would now have to spend 11 years and six months in jail unless his sentence was commuted by the government. In some crimes, including murder, the government may commute sentence on certain grounds after the convict has served 50 per cent of his/her sentence.

Regmi said today's SC order was a landmark verdict that would clearly define what accidental death is and what are the circumstances that prove intentional killings. He said the verdict would not only enrich criminal jurisprudence, but also make it easier for judges to decide the sentence.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 27, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.