A four-member committee of legal experts formed a year ago has submitted its report to Chief Justice Hari Prasad Sharma, recommending a reduction in the number of appellate courts from the present 16 to nine or 11. The panel, headed by the apex court’s seniormost justice, Dilip Kumar Paudel, has concluded that 16 appellate courts are unnecessary as there is not enough workload for them mainly because of the on-going violent conflict. Five years ago, the then chief justice Keshav Prasad Upadhaya had asked the government to cut their number to nine, but nothing came of it. As the Cabinet has the authority to fix the number, a full-court meeting of the SC justices, it is reported, will soon decide whether to request it to do so.
There can be no dispute over the idea of cutting waste and saving costs, particularly at a time when the treasury is finding it extremely difficult to meet budgetary needs. But the question is, can the argument of light or no workload arising from the insurgency be a sufficient reason for cutting the number of courts? If this argument were to be extended, a number of other government offices would also have to be vacated from those areas where the appellate courts have little work. Then the already reduced State presence in the country would shrink further. The recommendation can be taken also to be an indirect admission that the security situation is far from improved.
Nepal has three tiers of court—the district court (in all the 75 districts), the appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. Many litigants go to an appellate court, and reducing their number means that the general public will suffer from greater inconvenience and expense. If each district has one court, then it becomes logical for each zone (as in the pre-1990 era) to have an appellate court, which would then cover at least four districts. Political reasons may have led the government to set up appellate courts in certain places not according to need. Correction should be made in these instances. If the judiciary and the executive really want to cut waste and boost efficiency, almost everywhere there is ample room for action. Going by the committee’s argument of little workload, a strong case can also be made for a cut in the number of district courts.