Fundamental question

On reading the text of the speech delivered by Chief Justice Hari Prasad Sharma on March 20 at the 11th conference of the chief justices of Asia and the Pacific at Gold Goast, Australia, one is confused whether it was a conference of ministers or of the ace judges of 32 countries. In his eight-page address, Sharma sketches the expanse and gravity of the problem created by the Maoists, whom he terms terrorists, heaps blame on the political parties for the ‘unrewarding’ years for ‘political stability, transparency and good governance.’ According to him, the “greed for power, factionalism, bad governance and corruption, which peaked during the last 14 years, watered the plant of terrorism.” He also held the political parties responsible for dissolving the local and national elective bodies, and for opening the ‘unrepresentative and unaccountable route to power’ and trying to ‘perpetuate’ it.

Then he comes to supporting the Royal interventions, including the one effected on February 1, and quotes from the King’s proclamation several times. Sharma also deals with the measures adopted to tackle ‘terrorism’ and their impact on the rule of law. Arguing that the traditional balances among the judiciary, the legislature and the executive are ‘sometimes reconfigured’ at extraordinary times, the Chief Justice recommends an approach of a ‘respectful deference to executive wisdom.’ He also appeals to the outside world to help, rather than criticise, the present government to combat ‘terrorism.’

People may have different opinions on the performance of the political parties, on the Maoists, on the King’s steps as well as on world reaction to the February 1 step. The point at issue is not who is right or who is wrong. But the fundamental question is whether a judge, all the more so the chief of the judiciary, should make statements or speeches as if he were a political leader, supporting one side and criticising another, or make public remarks on sub judice cases. So one wonders how the parties concerned could expect justice from a judiciary headed by a man whose strong views on them have already become public. Sharma, soon after his appointment, told the press that the House could not be restored, though it was a sub judice case. How can workers or leaders of the political parties who go to court or whose cases are brought before it remain confident that their cases will not be prejudiced? Judges’ opinions on such issues should come only through court judgements, not at public forums. Like the executive and the legislature, the Nepali judiciary is already suffering from a big erosion of public credibility. The Chief Justice’s speech at Gold Coast will erode it further. The speech may also have let the cat out of the bag.