One’s cup of tea

The idea of setting up specialist benches in courts of law is a sound one. It not only tends to improve the quality of justice, as it promotes specialisation, but it also speeds up justice delivery. Not long ago, juvenile benches were set up in the courts of the country. A separate bench is also likely to adopt certain procedures peculiar to a certain class of cases, such as the protection of certain details from public knowledge because they might otherwise prejudice the legitimate interests of people concerned. The creation of a separate commercial bench at six appellate courts - the Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara, Butwal, Hetauda, Biratnagar, and Nepalgunj — as proposed by the Supreme Court received the Cabinet’s

approval in June, though for the first four places mentioned above. The Cabinet approved the

quota of a judge each for the four places. The SC is reported to have urged the government to accept its proposal fully.

However, the government is reported unlikely to change its decision now. Some lawyers and judges may not have been fully satisfied with the Cabinet decision. Some of them appear to see little point in setting up commercial benches at four places instead of six. This view does not bear scrutiny. First of all, the government has accepted the soundness of the idea. That is why it has approved four commercial benches. To start with, four is a good number. Obviously, two judges for each court will definitely become better. There may have been a budget constraint, for example. Nevertheless, expansion of separate benches should be kept in mind. But any attempt to portray the Cabinet decision as an insult to the judiciary or to see pointlessness in it will be taking a pessimistic attitude. The judges are independent, and under the Interim Constitution, there are no infringements on their authority. But in administrative or budgetary matters, the executive has its compulsions and privileges. It need not therefore comply with the judges’ every proposal the first time it is received.

Specialist benches have their merits as well as weaknesses. The shortage of judges, for instance, may mean that one judge in a court looks after a category of cases, say, commercial disputes. It may then become easier for unscrupulous businessmen to try all means to sway that judge, and the risk of compromising the quality of judgement always exists, particularly in Nepal’s context, where the judiciary leaves a lot to be desired on this count. If financial resources permit, there may be merit even in establishing a separate court for particular classes of disputes. Admittedly, the problem of specialisation is acute in Nepal, whether it is in commercial cases or something else. If, say, a constitutional bench were to be set up at the Supreme Court, it would be hard to look for judges who can be regarded as

something of an authority on constitutional law.

The fact that a person in the judicial service has got several promotions and become an SC judge does not guarantee his expertise. Like Medicine, Law has many branches, where a lifetime’s hard work and experience may be required to make anybody an authority on one particular area or two. However, over time, specialist benches will pay their dividends.