EDITORIAL: Timely verdict

While the provision of life sentence till death will act as deterrence the judicial system also needs to impart justice prudently

For the first time in Nepal’s judicial history, a trial court has handed down life imprisonment — jail sentence till death — to a person found guilty of raping and killing a 10-year old girl in Pokhara Metropolitan City. The Kaski District Court slapped life imprisonment on Kusum Paudel, 27, a resident of Pumdibhumdi, Pokhara-22, on charges of raping and killing a Grade III student of Lila Aadharbhut School of the same locality on September 23. The girl, who left home in the evening to buy biscuits, was found dead in a bush the following day. Police had arrested Paudel on September 24. During interrogation, Paudel admitted to committing the crime under the “influence of alcohol and marijuana”. He admitted killing her by hitting her face and head with a stone after she lost consciousness. Kaski District Police had filed a dual charge of raping and murdering against Paudel at the Kaski District Court on October 8. The court passed the verdict on Wednesday.

The court handed out Paudel life imprisonment invoking Section 41 of the new Penal Code that came into force on August 17. The new Penal Code was amended in 2017 incorporating “modern principles of criminal justice”. However, it came into force one year after it was amended by then Parliament. Originally known as Muluki Ain, first introduced by then prime minister Jung Bahadur Rana in 1854, it saw major changes in 1963 to address changes taken place in society over the years. It is the third time that the Muluki Ain — new Penal Code — has been changed to tackle the serious crimes with increased jail sentence. One of the features of the new Penal Code is an increment in quantum of punishment for serious crimes leading up to life imprisonment. As per the new Penal Code, a court may impose jail sentence until death in six cases: murder in cold-blood and brutal murder, killing someone after hijacking a plane or blasting ammunition in a plane, killing someone by poisoning food or drink meant for public consumption, genocide and murder after rape. Paudel will remain behind the bars till his death for raping and murdering the girl.

Since the new constitution of Nepal bans death penalty or capital punishment, the new Penal Code’s provision of meting out life imprisonment till natural death on serious offences as defined by the law will act as deterrence. This provision was carefully incorporated in the new Penal Code to deter people from committing heinous crimes and to prevent them from committing again similar crimes in the future. It is also in conformity with what has been widely practised in many liberal democracies that have abolished the death penalty. This provision will give a convict time for remorse for his criminal act throughout his/her life. Once a person is convicted by the final court of law on serious offences as mentioned above, s/he will not get any presidential pardon, remission or general amnesty. However, the new Penal Code has also posed challenges to law enforcement agencies and the justice system. While the investigating agencies are required to investigate a criminal offence in a very professional manner the judiciary should also have to deliver justice prudently with an effective provision of review of the verdicts carried out by lower courts.

Leprosy drugs

Despite efforts to eradicate leprosy by 2020, around 3,000 new leprosy patients are diagnosed in Nepal every year. Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability. But lack of drugs often hampers the treatment. Nawalpur is a case in point.

Leprosy patients in Nawalpur  of Gandaki Province, according to a report, have been hit hard due to lack of drugs. Leprosy drugs are distributed to patients free of cost. Gandaki Province Leprosy Department has attributed the medicine crunch to “inordinate delay in collecting the details of leprosy patients in the district”. Leprosy is a leading cause of permanent disability in the world and predominantly affects the poor marginalised people. Hence, it is often called “a disease of poverty”. Sometimes the delay in collecting details on leprosy patients might be due to social stigma associated with the disease. The authorities must take this fact also into account and do all the needful to continually supply the drugs.