KATHMANDU, APRIL 29: Prime Minister and Chairman of the Constitutional Council (CC) Pushpa Kamal Dahal postponed a decision on choice of new chief justice during Monday´s CC meeting even though a majority of CC members wanted to pick justice Min Bahadur Rayamajhee as the new chief justice.

Sources said that the prime minster did so because the Maoists want justice Anup Raj Sharma for top judicial post that is going to be vacant on May 3 when Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri retires.

At Monday´s meeting held at the prime minister´s residence, four out of six CC members had wanted to choose Justice Rayamajhee as chief justice. But Prime Minister Dahal and Law Minister Dev Prasad Gurung remained silent on the name of Rayamajhee. Then the meeting ended inclusively.

As the CC members came out of the meeting, they told mediapersons that the CC could not take any decision on the new chief justice as Agriculture Minister Jaya Prakas Prasad Gupta was absent. The meeting was called off till Tuesday afternoon.

Sources at the CC said Chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subas Nemwang had proposed the name of justice Rayamajhee as the next chief justice at the very outset of the meeting, arguing that the tradition of picking the senior-most justice for the top judicial post should be followed this time as well.

Justice Sharma (left) and justice Rayamajhee.

Following this Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri, Deputy Prime and Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam and Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who represented opposition leader Girija Prasad Koirala at the meeting, supported Nemwang´s proposal. But the prime minister and the law minister remained silent over the majority-backed proposal. Then Nemwang urged the meeting to take decision on Rayamajhee at the meeting.

Then, Law Minister Gurung proposed to postpone the decision, arguing the decision should not be taken as Agriculture Minister Gupta, who was supposed to represent Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav at the meeting, was absent. But Nemwang continued to press that the decision on Rayamajhee should be taken right during the meeting. Then the prime minister postponed the meeting till Tuesday afternoon, knowing that he and the law minister were in minority.

During the discussion, the prime minister and the law minister did not reveal their preferred name to head the judiciary.

Sources who are advising the prime minister on the matter told on Tuesday that the prime minister called off Tuesday´s meeting deliberately because he wanted time to create a favorable environment for picking Justice Sharma for the top job. The meeting was postponed at a time when the chief justice and the chairman of the Constituent Assembly had already reached the prime minister´s office. They were told that the prime minister could not come at the meeting because he was busy in parleys with political parties over the army chief row.

“We came to know the stance of the CC members from Monday´s meeting. So, we need more time to create environment for picking Justice Sharma as Giri´s successor. Tuesday´s meeting was postponed accordingly,” the source said.

Law Minister Gurung has already made it public that the CC is not compelled to follow the tradition of seniority while selecting chief justice. He has further said that the CC is free to choose out of six Supreme Court Justices eligible for the post.

Knowledgeable sources close to the Maoist party said that the Maoists have reservations over Rayamajhee’s name. The sources said that the Maoists are not happy with Rayamajhee´s role in recent appointments at the Supreme Court and the appellate court chief judges. They have accused him of backing judges with questionable backgrounds while making the appointments. Besides, they have doubts about Rayamajhee´s commitment to loktantra [democracy] and the changes that have taken place in the country in the country in case the country faces an untoward political incident after he becomes the chief justice.

“The Maoists want clean and competent judge who can embrace loktantra and political change. For Maoists, Justice Sharma is the ideal candidate” said the Maoist source.

Justice Rayamajhee is the senior-most justice while justice Sharma is the second in the rank. Both justices had played significant role in upholding people´s fundamental rights during the king´s direct rule in 2005. They were key in passing the landmark judgments of dissolving the king-formed Royal Commission for Corruption Control in February 2006 and restoring the rights of FM radios to broadcast news. Justice Rayamajhee is a career judge while justice Sharma has lawyer´s background.

In the meantime, a split has been seen in Nepal Bar Association (NBA) over the appointment of the new chief justice. NBA General Secretary Raman Kumar Shrestha, who is close to the Maoist party, boycotted NBA´s function for judicial independence, on Monday and Tuesday. “I was not consulted for the function,” he said when asked about why he did not attend the NBA functions. Lawyers close to the Maoists said that the functions were organized to shore support for Rayamajhee.

But, NBA faction led by President Bishwa Kanta Mainali said that they organized the function to protect judicial independence that is under threat from the Maoists.

Published on 2009-04-29 00:00:01