Tears on my pillow

The judiciary and judges have come into public controversy at times. But in recent years their action or inaction has so often triggered troubling questions about the independence of the judiciary, probity and impartiality of judges, and their respect for the judicial code of conduct, that one can now hardly say that the judges and the judiciary are held in high public esteem. The current controversy centres on the professional conduct of Dilip Kumar Paudel, the Chief Justice. This at a time when public doubts persist over the Special Court’s recent decisions that cleared several former holders of high government office of corruption cases filed by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIIA). The CIAA has appealed many of the verdicts to the Supreme Court.

Newspapers have with dates and timings said that CJ Paudel met several parties to sub judice cases, including former ministers Rabindranath Sharma and Khum Bahadur Khadka, at his official residence. Sharma is quoted in newspapers as admitting that he met the CJ. But the CJ has not as yet given any public clarification, despite calls for the same including the law minister’s. Admittedly, no concrete evidence has surfaced of any deal between the accused and the CJ. That is unimportant because the very meetings flout fundamental principles of judicial conduct. An advocate has also filed an application in the Parliament seeking impeachment of the CJ. And the CJ’s meetings with the Prime Minister this week will certainly not promote favourable public opinion. The public has a right to know from the heads of the executive and judicial branches what urgent official business necessitated those meetings.

The judges should set an example for others. Or else their decisions will attract a low public view of the judiciary. Criticism of the CJ’s conduct has been pretty long, and calls for his impeachment are now gaining momentum. Many think Paudel has not done enough to improve his democratic and professional credentials. During the active royal rule, he attended, as CJ, programmes at which speeches were made vilifying multiparty democracy and the mainstream political parties. He hobnobbed in public with key members of the King-led Cabinet in violation of the judicial code of conduct. Later, after the restoration of democracy, his meeting with Speaker Subas Nembang against the backdrop of the PAC recommendation for impeachment of judges who had handed down controversial verdicts on a bank-loan default case of a sugar mill hardly helped to raise the judiciary’s public rating. The meeting actually led to the scuttling of the impeachment. Horse-trading will never improve the judiciary’s public reputation. Things have gone too far for clarifications to retrieve the lost ground. The only way to salvage the judiciary’s public stock is for the parliament to institute a thorough investigation into charges against Paudel and take appropriate action on the basis of the conclusions drawn. The judges must always be above suspicion; else the judiciary itself will be suspect.