A happy ending

The Supreme Court has bought peace with the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) by taking back its five-day-old decision against Bishwo Kanta Mainali, a senior advocate and NBA president. A full court had suspended, in warning, his lawyer’s licence for six months for his public statement that said if no effective mechanism were put in place for prosecuting offending judges, the posts of judges would turn into something like a licence for corruption. Judges — of the apex court and the lower courts — were quick to denounce Mainali, and some of them even boycotted the benches, demanding action against him. But in reaction to the full court pronouncement, the NBA went into action of its own, starting with a boycott of the Bench. A deadlock ensued, and then they made peace. In the process, a four-point pact was signed to end irregularities in the judiciary.

Sometimes, even unpleasant showdowns lead to happy results, like this one. Both sides have agreed to end corruption within them. The measures to be adopted will include amending the Judicial Council Act, 1990 and the Nepal Bar Council Act, 1993. A change in the 1990 law would make it easier to prosecute a judge accused of corruption, whereas a change in the 1993 law would make lawyers accountable. The two sides also agreed to treat corruption as a crime. Both the judges and the lawyers expressed their commitment to ‘a clean, competent and accountable judiciary’, which they recognised, is the backbone of the rule of law and democracy. In fulfilment of this, they also agreed to set up a suitable mechanism in the lower courts as well as in the NBA branches across the country. On the ongoing NBA process of studying court verdicts and their shortcomings, about which the judges have been highly concerned, the apex court expected the NBA to conduct the process only as an academic exercise, not aimed at testing court judgements and hearing complaints against judges. This expectation is perfectly reasonable, because the judges’ jurisdiction must not be violated. However, it should be equally expected of the judges to learn from the findings of the study and make corrections in the future.

But the turn of events has other implications, too. The SC, as the court of last resort, has the sole privilege of making an ultimate interpretation of the disputed points of the Constitution and the laws.

But the top court is now widely felt to have acted in an impulsive and immature manner. This even led to charges of its encroaching upon another agency’s jurisdiction — something that will not add to its reputation. However, correction of mistakes is in itself a matter of appreciation, as it limits damage and provides promise of avoiding future false steps. Like some judges, some lawyers have also been engaging in corrupt practices. Cleaning up the judiciary means getting rid of both evils. The Bar and the Bench have also fought and patched up in the past, making good pledges too. Whether and to what extent these have been honoured should also receive their attention. The Bar-Bench collaboration may not always be to the advantage of justice or the citizens’ rights — for instance, secret understandings for unworthy purposes, say, to prevent impeachment proceedings against judges.