Opinion: When chief justices face govt’s vindictiveness
05:27 PM, May 02, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:59 PM, May 02, 2017

Opinion: When chief justices face govt’s vindictiveness

Nepal is now following the suit of Sri Lanka by initiating a move to impeach the chief justice.

In January 2013, Sri Lanka had set a bad example by impeaching country's first female chief justice.

Some orders of the Supreme Court led by the then chief justice infuriated President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The chief justice was accused by the government of interfering in the executive functions by abusing judicial powers. Rajapaksa abused his party's parliamentary majority and impeached the chief justice.

Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term to Mathripala Sirisena, his former health minister, in the January 2015 presidential polls. Weeks after his election, the new president reinstated Shirani Bandaranayake to her post to head Sri Lanka's judiciary.

In 2007, Pakistan military dictator Pervez Musharraf sacked then chief justice Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry accusing him of "misconduct and misuse" of authority.

Some rulings of the SC went against Musharraf and he feared the judges would declare him ineligible to contest a presidential election while in military uniform.

Dismissal of the CJ led to a countrywide protest that ultimately forced Musharraf to quit presidency in August 2008.

The sacked chief justice was reinstated in early 2009 by a democratically elected government.

Later, Pervez Musharraf acknowledged his mistake by sacking Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

In Nepal, Chief Justice Sushila Karki is facing wrath of the government after the Supreme Court under her leadership questioned the recent appointment of the police chief on grounds of anomalies.  

MPs from the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre) on Sunday registered the impeachment motion against Sushila Karki, charging her with infringing upon executive’s jurisdiction and nurturing factionalism within the judiciary. It is the first such move in the history of Nepal. 

Karki, the first woman chief justice of Nepal who is retiring after one month, was automatically suspended from the post after the registration of impeachment motion.

People from various walks of life and representatives of some political parties on Monday marched along the Kathmandu streets to protest against two major ruling parties’ move against the chief justice.

Some former chief justices of Nepal on Monday issued a statement expressing their concern over the impeachment motion registered against Sushila Karki.

The ex-justices have called on concerned stakeholders to withdraw the impeachment motion without any delay saying the motion does not have solid supporting facts and concrete decision for the same, according to Kathmandu Post.

In the statement, the former chief justices have said that they sense biasness and possible vested political interest behind the impeachment motion.

The move also triggered political crisis in Nepal. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Bimalendra Nidhi resigned on Sunday. His resignation is being considered as an expression of his dissatisfaction with a move to impeach the chief justice without his knowledge.

Nidhi leads the Nepali Congress, the largest constituent of the current ruling coalition, in the cabinet.

Political instability has been the biggest misfortune for the Nepalese people. It is evident from the number of prime ministers. The country has nine prime minsters in last one decade.

Former chief justice of Nepal Kalyan Shrestha accused the ruling parties of unleashing an attack on independence of the judiciary by filing an impeachment motion against the chief justice. The reasons presented by them for filing the motion doesn’t hold water, he said.

In a democracy, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary must function well and independently, said the former chief justice, adding: "A decision taken by one entity might not be pleasant to the other, but they have to respect each other’s decisions.”

The UK parliament, the most powerful legislature in the world, has been enjoying the power to remove judges of the High Court and above since enactment of the Act of Settlement in 1701. But it has never removed any English judge in over the past 300 years. 

But where democracy is fragile, judiciary faces threat from the executive. The government attacks on the courts when they question the government's arbitrary actions on legal grounds and declare them unlawful.

Chief Justice of Sri Lanka and Pakistan have faced the wrath of the governments for their strong leaderships. Now the chief Justice of Nepal is facing the same.    

It has been recognised world wide that independent judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy. Any attack on judiciary amounts to putting the democracy, constitution, rule of law and citizen rights at peril. 

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