EDITORIAL: Form grand bench

Since the House dissolution is a very serious case, it would be better to have a grand full bench to interpret the statute

Supreme Court Justice Hari Krishna Karki recused himself from the five-member constitutional bench, chaired by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana, which is hearing a case related to the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR), on Wednesday, after two of the petitioners raised issue of his potential ‘conflict of interest’ in the case. CJ Rana had earlier formed the bench to hear the House dissolution case. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari dissolved the 275-member HoR upon the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on December 20. The petitioners argued that Karki had been appointed attorney general by KP Oli when he became PM for the first time in October 2015. They argued that since Karki has now become a Supreme Court Justice, there is ample ground to suspect a possible conflict of interest between Karki and Oli, who has been named as one of the defendants. Both the petitioners even went on to argue that the verdict to be delivered by the bench would be shrouded in controversy if Justice Karki remained in the bench. These arguments led to Justice Karki’s recusal from the bench, which is to give its landmark verdict on whether the HoR dissolution was constitutional.

Apart from raising the issue of potential conflict of interest for Justice Karki, senior advocates Shambhu Thapa and Dinesh Tripathi also demanded that the HoR dissolution case be heard by a grand full bench comprising at least 11 member justices from among the 14 justices in the roster, not just by five.

Most of the petitioners and others who are opposed to the HoR dissolution looked askance at the formation of the five-member constitutional bench, fearing that they could be easily influenced by interest groups or lobbyists. The petitioners, therefore, have demanded the formation of the grand full bench, as was done when prime ministers GP Koirala, Manmohan Adhikary and Surya Bahadur Thapa decided to dissolve the HoRs before the completion of their full five-year terms. The apex court had then formed an 11-member grand full bench to hear the dissolution case.

It may also be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier included all the 19 SC justices to hear a case related to the deadline for filing or contesting cases in courts as a result of COVID-19 and the lockdown.

Since House dissolution is a very serious case, it would be better to have a grand full bench to interpret the constitution and provisions relating to House dissolution. It is thus important to form the grand full bench as the interpretation of the constitution to be made by the grand bench would be final, and it cannot be challenged in the Supreme Court for further review. The formation of such a bench will also uphold people’s trust in judicial independence.

But it is surprising to see that the hearing of the House dissolution case has been postponed again till January 13. The Supreme Court needs to resolve the case as quickly as possible so that the political uncertainty that has gripped the entire nation can be put to rest, either through the reinstatement of the House or through the mid-term elections as sought by the government. The apex court’s verdict will set the future course of politics in the desired direction.

Right to employment

The latest situation report prepared by the National Human Rights Commission reveals that the COVID-19 crisis has had a number of negative impacts on the right to employment of citizens in the country. For instance, seasonal and informal workers who represent 60 per cent of the labour force in Nepal have faced job cuts and losses following the outbreak of coronavirus. Another category of workers in precarious situation are home-based workers. There are nearly 1.4 million home-based workers in Nepal — nearly all women — producing goods for export.

With global supply blocked due to the pandemic, this source of livelihood is also at risk.

A study commissioned by the UNDP in Nepal has also found that three in every five employees in both formal and non-formal micro, small and medium enterprises in Nepal have lost jobs. Country’s Labour Act states that every citizen shall have the right to employment. Every citizen shall have the right to get unemployment support pursuant to this Act. As the citizens should not be deprived of their right to employment guaranteed by the constitution, the federal, provincial and local governments must provide employment opportunities to the unemployed with minimum wages.