It is hard to define what constitutes contempt of court when the parliament has not enacted a law to this effect

This is a rare case in the country's judicial history that four former chief justices have furnished written replies to the Supreme Court on charges of contempt of court filed against them by a practicing lawyer. Four former chief justices – Kalyan Shrestha, Min Bahadur Rayamajhi, Anup Raj Sharma and Sushila Karki – had to furnish their written replies in person after they were accused of engaging in contempt of court for jointly condemning the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR). Issuing a joint press statement on January 8, the four retired chief justices had said PM KP Sharma Oli's decision to dissolve the parliament on December 20 was an "unconstitutional act". They had even said that the five-member constitutional bench of the apex court should quash the government's move to dissolve the HoR and demanded its reinstatement. The plaintiff filed a case against them in the apex court on charges of contempt of court as they had jointly mounted pressure on the court to reinstate the dissolved parliament.

However, in their written replies to the court, they said whatever they had said was within the confines of the constitution and they would stick to what they had stated in their press release.

While furnishing the replies in response to the court's order, they have said that the House dissolution was an unconstitutional act and they stood by their stance. However, they made it clear that their remarks were not aimed at a sub judice case or the court but the factors responsible for the HoR dissolution. The former chief justices said as private citizens after their retirement form office they used the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. They 'could not stay silence' simply because the case has been a sub judice.

Their argument is that they were neither creating obstruction in the adjudication of justice, nor were interfering in the functioning of the court and parliament. The contempt of court should equally apply to all who were raising voices in favour of the House dissolution or against it.

It would be better to wait till the apex court gives its verdict on the House dissolution. It equally applies even to the retired chief justices.

A person is free to air his or her views on a public issue that has sharply divided the society from the day one of the House dissolution. However, the main question here is why the former chief justices teamed up and issued a joint statement over a sub judice issue.

It seems that their motive behind issuing the statement is to covertly influence the constitutional bench in favour of the dissolved parliament's reinstatement.

This is a very tricky question as to what constitutes contempt of court. On the other hand, there is no law that defines when it becomes a contemptuous act. It is based on the Supreme Court's interpretation, which has been found to be inconsistent, selective and discretionary. In India, there is a separate law dealing with contempt of court. So, it is high time that Nepal's federal parliament also enacted a law to this effect so that the Supreme Court can pass its verdict sticking to the legal provisions. However, sad to say is that the parliament failed to enact a law to this effect due to conflicting interest of the major political parties.

Dishonest officials

Police arrested three local level officials for forgery at Simraungadh Municipality in Bara district the other day. Those arrested include Chief Administrative Officer, Account Officer and Planning Officer of the municipality. They were accused of forging the signature of absent members of a town assembly held in June last year. Local level officials are specifically assigned to manage programmes and staff. In addition, the chief administrative staff is the key player in the lawmaking processes.

The officials do also have the responsibility to facilitate the people's representatives in ensuring good governance and transparency. If those officials themselves are involved in forgery, such acts will not only tarnish their images but also badly hamper the day to day functioning of the local governments that are directly connected with the local people. Local governments must frame and implement necessary laws to curb such unethical acts as reportedly committed by Bara-based officials. Besides, the federal government and need to support the local governments to hold them accountable to the people. It has been found that more corruption has taken place at local levels due to poor training of the local level officials.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 17, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.