The Judicial Council must reform from within so that the lower court judges can act independently without fear of its reprisal

The veracity of the Judicial Council (JC) has been questioned after it took punitive actions against three judges of the Biratnagar High Court (BHC) over the latter’s verdict on a 33.5 kg gold smuggling case and the murder of Sanam Shakya by a gang of smugglers. The JC, comprising Chief Justice as the chair and senior-most justice of the Supreme Court, Law minister, a representative from Nepal Bar Association and a Prime Minister’s nominee as its members, recently sacked BHC judge Umesh Kumar Singh and served warning letters to two other judges – Thir Bahadur Karki and Sadhuram Sapkota – for “hobnobbing” with the defendants and their relatives. Although the JC took punitive action against the said BHC judges, the apex court endorsed their verdicts in 29 cases, except for one. The JC can take punitive action against the judges of the lower courts if they are found passing erroneous verdicts. However, such actions must be based on solid evidences and thorough investigation. Some legal experts lamented that the JC took a hasty action, well before the apex court endorsed their judgments, against them based on a lopsided report prepared by some people who had a mala fide intention against the BHC judges.

Summoning the judges on deputation to the JC is against the spirit of the constitution, which has made all the judges independent of the executive and legislature. Instead of taking hasty punitive action against the lower court judges, they could have been barred from taking the bench while investigation on their verdicts was on. The Supreme Court had also asked the JC to take action against two Pokhara High Court judges for giving verdicts beyond their jurisdiction. After punitive action was taken against the high court judges, former justice of the Supreme Court Bala Ram KC had called for reforms in the law governing the JC so that the high court judges are made independent. If the high court and lower court judges are not made independent, chances of sending an accused to judicial custody are very high even though there are sufficient reasons for granting him/her bail.

Following the two recent incidents, the lower court judges are scared to pass fair verdicts as per their judicial conscience and evidence. The JC’s action against the BHC judges has been proven wrong after the apex court endorsed their judgments on both the offences. Summoning the lower court judges to the JC also undermines their morale. What the JC should understand is that the provision of three tiers of the court was made in the constitution so that the lower court’s verdict is automatically reviewed by the higher court should the lower court make any error in a case. The JC should not take punitive action against the lower court judges simply because their judgment was erroneous. Should this trend continue unabated, it is the public who will suffer ultimately as the lower court will hesitate in using its judicial mind. Thus, every decision taken by the JC should also appeal to the public and the legal fraternity. More than that, the JC’s composition is also being questioned. The political appointees have an upper hand and can easily influence the oversight mechanism when it comes to appointing the judges from top to bottom.

Cases of elephantiasis

It is disturbing to learn that 24 students from 73 schools in Kathmandu district alone have been found infected with lymphatic filariasis at a time when the government is hoping to eliminate the disease by next year. The survey was conducted in 26 districts, including Kathmandu, among 23,000 students in the age group six to seven. More commonly known as elephantiasis, it is spread by the culex mosquito after it bites an infected person whose bloodstream carries microscopic worms causing the disease. A chronic situation of the disease causes the tissues of the legs, breasts and genitals to swell.

Lymphatic filariasis is a public health issue in Nepal, which at the beginning of this century was endemic in 61 of the country’s 75 districts. But an annual campaign for the last six years involving mass administration of diethylcarbamazine and albendazole drugs had made the government hopeful of eliminating the disease by 2020. But the presence of infected children in the schools surveyed means that the parents might also be suffering from the disease. Mass drug administration and destruction of the habitat of the mosquitoes should prove effective in controlling its spread.