Courting trouble

The Supreme Court is heavily overloaded with cases. This has made justice delivery a long,

arduous process for people. The way the Supreme Court manages this overload may also have something to do with delayed justice. While the administrative efficiency of the court plays an important role in the speed of justice delivery, the importance of sound principles, competence of the judges and independence of their minds reflect the quality of judicial decisions. Certainly, these areas call for improvement. But this overload could be considerably eased if some simple reforms were introduced. One would be to do away with the need to file writ petitions in the Supreme Court after the decisions of the Administrative Court, which deals with disputes over such matters as government employees’ promotion, demotion, transfers and departmental action. Those who lose cases there have tended to go to the apex court, and this class of writ petitions is reported to constitute about one-fourth of its 18,000 pending cases.

The Administrative Court should be made the final arbiter of administrative disputes, and the Supreme Court should be given more time to deal with the cases for which it is chiefly responsible according to the Constitution, such as the ultimate interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution and laws and protection of the citizen’s fundamental rights. Moreover, the Supreme Court has become burdened unnecessarily with cases on which it has already pronounced judgements. As Chief justice Kedar Prasad Giri has rightly expressed concern, the case overload is considerably due to the failure of the authorities to follow Supreme Court precedents, as this has led to a repetition of writ petitions on similar matters on which there exist legal precedents. According to him, inconsistency in administrative decisions is also due to frequent changes in law. The Chief Justice was speaking in the capital on Sunday at an interaction on administrative law and implementation of the Civil Service Act.

Justice Min Bahadur Rayamajhi spoke of the threat to the rule of law that comes from the tendency of the authorities to issue orders and directives violating the law. He also saw need to find out who has followed the law and who has not. There are two things that need to be done — the Administrative Court should be made the first and final settler of the disputes under its purview. This will require an amendment to the law concerning the Administrative Court. Secondly, this court should be strengthened in all its aspects, including supply of adequate and competent manpower. Most government leaders and officials have tended to act in full knowledge that these go against the law and the judicial precedents already established. Some, for whatever reasons, have violated this norm without meaning to do so. However, most of the government agencies or undertakings have their own legal advisers; therefore, they cannot escape blame by pleading ignorance of the law. The Nepali judiciary has also contributed over the years to officials’ tendency to violate the law by failing to punish the guilty, all the more so people in power. Total improvement should, therefore, come from more than one source.