Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana formed a five-member constitutional bench led by him comprising senior-most justices Deepak Kumar Karki, Meera Khadka, Ishwar Khatiwada, and Ananda Mohan Bhattarai.

However, Attorney General Ramesh Badal and other lawyers representing Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in the House of Representatives dissolution case opposed the formation of the constitutional bench, raising questions about impartiality of justices Deepak Kumar Karki and Ananda Mohan Bhattarai.

Advocates Rajaram Ghimire, Krishna Bhandari, Dhanjit Basnet, and Yagya Mani Neupane submitted their petitions opposing the reconstitution of the constitutional bench.

They argued that justices Karki and Bhattarai, who opposed induction of justices Tej Bahadur KC and Bam Kumar Shrestha in the constitutional bench and who called the HoR dissolution case a byproduct of the nullification of Nepal Communist Party (NCP)'s unification, should recuse themselves from the case as they had already expressed their opinion.

This prompted CJ Rana to ask them to either withdraw their petition or face contempt of court charges for obstructing administration of justice.

Petitioner Neupane withdrew his petition, but other petitioners did not.

CJ Rana said he had reconstituted the bench on the basis of seniority of the justices and question should not be raised against the formation of the bench now.

Justice Ishwar Khatiwada also asked the PM's lawyers not to raise the issue about the formation of the bench, as CJ Rana had included the senior-most justices in the bench.

"You might wonder why two other senior-most justices - Hari Krishna Karki and Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha - are not on the bench. Justice Karki, who had recused from the earlier HoR dissolution case, has opted out of the bench, while Justice Shrestha is in isolation due to COVID," Justice Khatiwada said.

When Attorney General Ramesh Badal raised doubts on the impartiality of justices Karki and Bhattarai repeating the argument of lawyers representing the PM, Senior Advocate Badri Bahadur Karki said that AG represented the state and it was not fair on his part to oppose the order passed by justices Karki and Bhattarai on June 1. "If the state does not have confidence in the justices, then what will be the fate of the judiciary?" he wondered.

Former attorney general and Oli's close aide Agni Prasad Kharel also expressed his doubts over a fair trial should the newly formed bench based on seniority proceeded with the case.

However, Senior Advocate Mithilesh Kumar Singh argued before the bench that it was a well accepted practice in other countries, including India, to induct senior-most justices on the constitutional bench.

The next hearing of the case has been scheduled for tomorrow.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.