When the Supreme Court gave a verdict on Ranjan Koirala, it produced a widespread contention with much public discord. The verdict has posed a legitimate question on the competency of the judges engaged in the case and has brought the entire justice system under scrutiny. The Attorney General’s office on July 23 filed a review petition in the Apex Court to rehear the case. The Attorney General along with senior advocates has denounced the decision of the court, and rightly so; the judgment comprises of multiple flaws and has gone against fundamental legal principles.
Ranjan Koirala, a former deputy inspector general of the Nepal Armed Police Force, was pronounced guilty of killing his wife Gita Dhakal on January 12, 2012, and burning the body so as to leave no trace of evidence. He was given a sentence to life imprisonment along with seizure of his property by the Kathmandu District Court, which was subsequently upheld by the Patan Appellate Court. Lately, after Koirala had spent 8 years in prison, the Supreme Court, in the bench led by the Chief Justice, Cholendra Shumsher Rana, and Justice Tej Bahadur KC overturned the decision of the lower courts and waived off the remaining jail-term and freed the convict presenting baseless arguments. Furthermore, the court’s reasoning that the convict’s son, who is of a legal age, needs to be taken care of by his father is debatable. Another staggering reason provided by the judges was that they ‘felt’ that lifetime imprisonment for the crime Koirala has committed was disproportionate.
Moreover, the reference of precedents is unmentioned in substantiating the reason behind releasing the convict. The court has completely disregarded previous judgments that form a legal basis for deciding the case. The court has also not deliberated upon the theory behind Section 188 of Muluki Ain, which confers a discretionary power to deduct the sentence of the prisoners on reasonable and rational grounds. The Judges have to weigh between the severity of the crime, the circumstances under which it was committed, and the personality of the criminal while exercising discretionary power. However, in this case, the judges have abused the use of discretionary power, which should be reserved for the most compelling of cases.
The term ‘justice’ is often understood as being fairn, impartial, without prejudices, honest, objective, and is unsentimental. Along with this, the concept of justice being served is coupled with receiving what one deserves. It is a widely accepted fact that one should be held liable for their actions. However, due to judgments like this, people are losing confidence in the justice delivering mechanism, and the integrity of the court is diminishing. Further, it reinforces systemic violence and does injustice to the victim’s family.
The verdict is a classic illustration of a bad judgment delivered by the court. This would set a bad precedent and affect the subsequent cases. A bad judgment leaves a greater impact in the society, as it encourages impunity, which leads to increment in violence. Nevertheless, the petition for revision has brought a new hope for justice. It appears that the court has taken this matter seriously after facing much condemnation from the general public as well as senior practitioners of law. Whether the judgment will be overturned is a different question altogether, but the acceptance of the appeal made to court for the review of the particular case itself indicates the decision is fallacious. There are manifold instances of judgments being appealed for revision that are overturned. The judges, including the Chief Justice are not supposed to know every letter of the law; however, the approach the bench has taken in this particular case is dubious and raises ethical questions about the Chief Justice.
Following this case, the Supreme Court released a press statement on July 27, which was unwarranted. The Court should not curtail the voice of the public and should be open to criticisms.
Likewise, another instance that can be taken in similar light, is the case of Nirmala Panta. The thirteen year old was raped and then murdered on July 26 2018. Two years have passed since the case was instituted in the Court and the case has seen no progress. The foremost reason behind the delay in the delivering of the justice is seen to be the negligence in the investigating process by the police. Police has a major role to play in conducting a proper investigation and gathering all the relevant evidence for the court to reach a verdict. The justice system of the country is evidence-based, thus evidence holds utmost importance in determining the case. However, in this case the eight police officers were found destroying forensic evidence; shielding the culprit. The case was filed in Kanchanpur District Court against eight police officials accusing them of felony of evidence tampering. Police are deemed one of the pillars of the justice system; gross negligence on the part of the police has a huge bearing on justice being denied to the victim. Moreover, it perpetuates systemic violence to the victim and her family, further victimizing them.
Furthermore, the unfounded statement from police blaming the global pandemic for the deferment of the investigation merely questions the credibility and competency of the Nepal Police. The act of distorting evidence itself comes under the scope of miscarriage of justice, however, the Kanchanpur District Court absolving eight police officials on July 30 further questions the veracity of the Justice delivering mechanism. The court has simply ignored the gravity of the crime the police officials had committed. Such decisions of the court encourages criminals, as they can easily escape repercussions of their crimes. Such negligent and heedless behavior of the court has visibly shaken the trust of the public on justice mechanisms.
Constitutionally, the Executive and the Judiciary are entrusted with the responsibility to enforce law and order and protect the rule of law by interpreting it, respectively. In fact, after the Legislative, these two constitutional bodies should function in a way to check and balance each other and ensure that people feel protected by the state mechanism. The cases of Ranjan Koirala, Nirmala Panta, and several others in the recent years, however, demonstrate otherwise. In multiple instances, both the executive and the judiciary have worked to undermine the legal supremacy and have instead operated to serve personal interests of those holding a position of power. Such irresponsibilities have antagonized the public and have let to what we may confortably call a miscarriage of the justice system.
Author: Lumana Uprety; Uprety is currently working as an intern at CESIF Nepal.