In 2007, Transparency International categorised Nepal's judiciary as one of the most corrupt. Not much has changed since, we are still at the bottom of the index.
Five years of transition have emptied political institutions of their fundamental democratic values, and glaring impunity has eroded public faith in the law. Widespread abuse of public office by greedy individuals has been the hallmark of Nepal's transitional politics. Accountability and rule of law have been put on the back burner in the name of the peace process. Consensual, promiscuous politics is undermining the effectiveness and legitimacy of the state.
The Supreme Court's recent verdicts in landmark corruption cases, and its decision to put a cap on extension of the CA are celebrated as examples of judicial activism, but there are mountains of impunity and cases still pending. While the rot begins right at the top, a serious lack of integrity and competency in the lower courts challenge justice delivery.
Deputy Attorney General Surya Prasad Koirala told me this week after the Gupta ruling that the indictment for corruption of a sitting minister and senior government officers are landmark verdicts. "But," he hastened to add, "the rulings have brought into sharp focus the larger question of competency and integrity of the lower courts."
Chief Justice Ram Prasad Shrestha had commented before retiring last year that corruption could be substantially checked by ensuring competency and integrity of the judicial heads. Shrestha proved his theory during a short but effective period in office. It was in his tenure that the clamp down on corruption began and he set a judicial precedence by taking a note of the writ petitions filed against the special court's 'inconsistent' verdict on corruption cases against senior government officials and ex-ministers. The SC revoked the clean chit provided by the special court on these cases, some as old as 10 years, citing intentional overlooking of evidence and flawed investigations.
Today there are at least a dozen high profile corruption cases pending. Government Attorney Tej Narayan Paudel who has argued several cases against corruption believes recent verdicts are encouraging and send a strong message to the corrupt, but he cautions: "There is long way to go before the hammer comes down against the wrong doers."
The nation is still preoccupied with the peace process and statute drafting and questions of transparency and accountability have fallen victims to the political deadlock. The media has done its bit, but corruption is so widespread and accepted that citizens take it as a given. Almost as important as an activist judiciary is overcoming public apathy.
The judicial council may already be investigating the culpability of those in the lower courts who gave a clean chit to Minister JP Gupta, and it will probably find that corruption runs deep within the judiciary itself. The justice system is partly to blame for the growing impunity and Nepal's poor human rights record. At a time when truth and justice are vital in ending the political transition, there is an erosion of the people's faith in the system.
The judiciary has a challenging task of doing justice to its own credibility before it commands moral clout, besides legal authority, to deliver justice.
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