Unkept promises

Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri told representatives of the Transparency International Nepal this week that the judiciary is preparing to work with civil society organisations to check corruption in the courts and maintain judicial independence. He was reported as saying that the issue would be put before the full court and appropriate decision taken. The CJ’s assurance had come in response to the delegation’s plea that he should launch ‘effective’ campaigns against judicial corruption in cooperation with civil society. Basudev Dhungana, a member of the Judicial Council, told them that there were some ‘technical’ difficulties in arresting and taking action against judges merely on the basis of the information that they were involved in irregularities. Undoubtedly, civil society bodies should always be building public opinion against corruption, abuse of authority and unethical behaviour in the body politic.

Indeed, the CJ might obtain some useful advice from these agencies that he could profitably use to control corruption. But it is mainly the CJ’s own leadership that is responsible for disciplining the judges and court officials. The CJ’s moral authority and determination will make the main difference. The Constitution and the legal and administrative set-ups have vested in the CJ considerable powers in this respect. The question is whether he chooses to exercise them to the full. Past CJs have talked big and pointed to scapegoats - need for big budgets, big plans and cooperation of all in cleaning up the mess in the judiciary, and they have also often expressed concern for the independence of the judiciary, blaming this or that for weakening it. But the Nepali judiciary since the 1990 Jana Andolan has been among the freest in the world. The only question is whether it has lived up to the degree of independence the Constitution has granted it.

If the judges have not, it is the fault of their own. It has generally been agreed, and several CJs, including the incumbent, have also admitted that there is considerable corruption in the judiciary. It does not mean, however, that other sectors have less. But it is also true that it is much more difficult to take action against the judges, mostly for obvious reasons; and as for action against the Supreme Court judges, only a two-thirds majority of the parliament can remove them by following a given procedure under certain conditions. But no SC judge since 1990 has been so removed. However, this does not yet all prove that none of them has committed any act of corruption or misconduct. Nothing happened even when the Public Accounts Committee recommended impeachment against certain SC judges not very long ago. All this suggests that there is something wrong somewhere. The CJ could start taking up things for improvement that could be easily done - for instance, by putting a stop to unnecessary delays in giving hearing dates. There are many places crying out for instant attention. A little seriousness about these could make much of a difference. Many SC judges have retired by promising a lot but doing nothing significant. It is hoped CJ Giri who has one year on his hands will not join the pack.