Nepal’s first female Chief Justice, Sushila Karki, in an interview with BBC Nepali Service, 11 July
BBC Nepali Service: Were you hand-picked by the Maoists as a Supreme Court (SC) justice when you were a senior advocate?
Chief Justice Sushila Karki: I am neither a Maoist nor a Congress. If anything, I am a democrat. They say I was hand-picked by the Maoists, but I have heard that the Congress leaders are cursing themselves for recommending my name because I delivered verdicts that were not favourable to them.
But is it not true that you were recommended by the Nepali Congress (Democratic) to be a member of the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee?
I do not know who recommended my name at that time. Now, all political parties, except the RPP-N, want to take credit for that. I dare any political leader to claim that I begged them to make me a justice.
Do you feel you lacked experience when appointed directly to the SC?
True, I did not have experience working as a judge, but I had the knowledge. It was not so difficult. I had not studied commerce, so I faced problems when hearing cases about tax and revenue matters. But I was good at hearing criminal cases right from my first day at the SC.
Would it not have been easier for you if you had started working as a judge at the appellate court?
I do not think so. All I needed to work as a SC justice was courage, and I had that. Public prosecutors plead, and their statements are drafted and presented to us. Then, we get the statements from the defence lawyers. We thoroughly examine both, and reach a conclusion. If we are confused, we consult each other.
Who should be afraid of you as the new Chief Justice?
I do not think anyone should be afraid of me. But I will not spare those who are corrupt.
You spoke about CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki in the Parliamentary Hearing Committee.
I ran into him for the first time today, and asked him why he is spreading rumours that we are brother and sister. He just grinned, and did not say anything.
But the fact that you met him for the first time today does not prove that you are not a relative of his.
I do not know who he is, and I have not passed a single ruling about any case involving him in his private capacity. A case involving the CIAA should not be his personal case. But if the CIAA is involved in wrongdoing, should I not hear a case against it?
So Karki’s position is in danger?
I do not have personal animosity against anyone. I am just pointing out his mistakes.
What are your plans after retirement?
I came to Kathmandu to serve as a SC justice when I was doing well as a senior advocate. If I were greedy I would not have accepted the offer. Senior lawyers often refuse to join the Supreme Court because they earn a lot more as advocates. They say that what a SC justice earns, which is only Rs 40,000, is not sufficient to live on in Kathmandu. But I never thought about it because I am not after money. I do not have any vested interests, and will work impartially during my one-year tenure.
What about Khila Raj Regmi’s appointment as the Chair of the Council of Ministers while still serving as the Chief Justice?
Regmi was a very fair justice. A wise person, too. But he ended up becoming Prime Minister when he was still Chief Justice. The judiciary is still paying the price for that decision.
In the Parliamentary Hearing Committee, you spoke of how much suffering you had to bear while serving as a SC justice for seven years.
I do not want to blame anyone, but as the only woman justice at the Supreme Court then, other justices would often pass disparaging remarks without realising my presence in the chamber. I would find it difficult to digest their comments. This gender discrimination permeates all strata of the state and society today.
The Judicial Council’s decision to recommend former UML legislator Sapana Pradhan Malla as a SC justice has sparked criticism that it opened the door for politicians to enter the judiciary.
I do not think so. Our Constitution and laws do not bar those involved in politics from becoming SC justices. Even so, we have not recommended those who were active in politics as SC justices. If Sapana Pradhan Malla is a political person, so are Hari Krishna Karki and Prakash Raut (who have been recommended as SC justices alongside Malla). We recommended Malla because of her capability. She is well-educated, an expert in her field, has been part of many court cases that resulted in landmark verdicts in favour of women rights, and is committed to law and justice.