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Event Type: News & Events
Event Location: Supreme Court

Visit to the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Visit Report 

Date: 26th June 2024

On the 26th of June, a team of interns from the Institute for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) visited the Supreme Court of Nepal, the highest court in the country, recognized as a Court of Records. Nepal's judicial system comprises 7 High Courts, along with nine permanent and two temporary benches. Additionally, there are 77 District Courts and several other judicial bodies, including the Debt Recovery Tribunal, Revenue Tribunal, Administrative Court, Foreign Employment Tribunal, and Special Court. Local judicial committees also operate at various levels. 

Article 127 of the Constitution of Nepal outlines the structure of the Supreme Court, High Courts, and District Courts and provides for the creation of local judicial bodies and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Article 137 establishes a Constitutional Bench in the Supreme Court, consisting of the current Chief Justice and four other judges. 

Overview of the Visit 

During the visit, Ms. Shreya Sanjel, Section Officer (Judiciary), provided in-depth information about the Court’s proceedings and guided us through the Judicial Museum. The group was divided into four small groups, each observing different courtrooms and proceedings.

Courtroom A: The Constitutional Bench 

A group of us went to observe the Constitutional Bench, which typically conducts proceedings on Wednesdays and occasionally on Fridays. The Constitutional Bench in the Supreme Court of Nepal, as established by Article 137 of the Constitution, is chaired by the Chief Justice and includes four other justices selected by the Chief Justice based on the Judicial Council's recommendation. On the 26th of June, it was led by the current Chief Justice S.P. Ny. and included Hon. Mr. Vishwambhar Prasad Shrestha, Hon. Ms. Sapana Pradhan Malla, Hon. Mr. Prakash Kumar Dhungana, Hon. Mr. Kumar Regmi, and Hon. Dr. Shri Manoj Kumar Sharma. 

This Bench has extraordinary authority to handle writ petitions challenging the constitutionality of any law in Nepal, and it can declare such laws void if they are found inconsistent with the Constitution. It also has original jurisdiction over intergovernmental disputes between the Federal, State, and Local levels, disputes related to the election of Federal Parliament or Provincial Assembly members, and matters concerning the disqualification of these members. Additionally, any case in the Supreme Court that involves a significant constitutional interpretation can be heard by this Bench. 

Courtroom B: Corruption Trial

Group B attended a case trial on corruption, which took place in the fourth Bench of the Supreme Court and was presided over by Hon. Shri Sharanga Subedi and Hon. Shri Tek Prasad Dhungana. The case involved allegations of corruption in the construction of a hospital building, where it was claimed that the building had been constructed against standards. The defendant, Manoj Kumar Yadav, was accused of embezzling two lakhs from a total budget of 1 crore 44 lakhs allocated for the project.

Notably, the prosecutor and the defendant were absent. Despite this, the trial proceeded, with each judge given ten minutes to present their viewpoints and relevant evidence. Surprisingly, all three judges defended the actions of Manoj Kumar Yadav, emphasizing the complexity of large construction projects and the challenges in managing such substantial budgets. They asserted that the missing funds were accounted for through legitimate project expenses not initially considered in the budget overview. 

However, this trial also brings to the forefront a critical issue within our judicial system: the backlog of pending cases. With over 33,000 cases pending, it is evident that more efficient handling at the district court level could alleviate this burden. If district courts resolved cases promptly and effectively, it would significantly reduce the caseload at higher courts, allowing for swifter justice and more focused attention on complex cases like the one observed. 

Courtroom C: Murder and Land Inheritance Cases 

During our visit to the court, several procedural observations stood out, providing a deeper understanding of how the judiciary functions in Nepal.  

Firstly, the level of respect given to the judges was evident throughout the proceedings. As is customary, everyone in the courtroom stood up when the judges entered, demonstrating the high regard in which they are held. This act of standing up is a traditional gesture of respect and signifies the authority and solemnity of the judicial process. 

In the murder trial involving seven individuals, we observed the efficiency and brevity with which the lawyer presented the case, despite its severe nature. The absence of prosecutors and defendants in the courtroom was notable, yet the judges, Mahesh Sharma Poudel and Bal Krishna Dhakal, took an hour meticulously reviewing the evidence before passing judgment. This showed their commitment to ensuring a thorough examination of the facts before reaching a decision, even in the absence of the parties involved. 

The land inheritance dispute case provided a contrasting atmosphere, highlighting the informal and conversational nature of some court proceedings. The self-representation of the individual and the judges' exploratory cross-questioning created a setting that was less adversarial and more focused on clarity and understanding. This approach demonstrated the judges' efforts to ensure that justice is accessible and comprehensible, especially in civil matters. 

Additionally, we noted that certain types of cases, such as those involving juveniles or sensitive issues like rape, require special procedures. We were informed that we would not be allowed to stay in the courtroom during these sessions to protect the privacy and dignity of the parties involved. This protocol underscores the judiciary's sensitivity and adherence to ethical standards in handling delicate matters. 

Finally, the hour-long wait between cases highlighted an area for potential efficiency improvements. While the dedication to thorough review is commendable, streamlining the scheduling and transitions between cases could enhance overall productivity. 

Courtroom D: Homicide and Human Trafficking Cases 

Our visit took place in a modestly sized room with two rows of benches for the audience, two tables and a podium for the lawyers, and a raised platform for the judges. The distinguished judges, positioned at the highest point of the platform, dedicated approximately 45 minutes to examining documents for their initial case of the day, which involved a homicide. 

Just as the trial was starting, the defense attorney announced that she did not have time to prepare for the case due to the recent passing of a relative. The prosecution team expressed frustration, stating that it was unprofessional since they had come prepared. However, the judges dismissed the case, highlighting certain shortcomings in Nepal's judicial system and adding to the Supreme Court's workload of over 33,000 unresolved cases. 

After waiting an additional 20 minutes while the judges reviewed files for the next case and the new set of lawyers prepared to present their arguments, we observed a case involving a 15-year-old girl from Dhading, an eighth-grade student who worked in a brick factory. She had met a man in the factory's canteen, exchanged numbers, and began communicating with him. Partway through the case, we learned that she had also filed a rape charge against him. The man had initially taken her to a hotel in Dhading, where he threatened to murder her and her family if she did not agree to marry him. He then traveled to Kathmandu and called her. Midday, she left her school bag and uniform with her siblings and took a bus to meet him. From there, they traveled to the Indian border, where police stopped them for questioning. It was then that the girl claimed she was being trafficked. 

The girl had three lawyers, while the accused had one. The defense lawyer argued that the case should be dismissed because it was filed in Dhading, even though the events also took place in Kathmandu and at the Indian border. However, the judges ruled that human trafficking does not occur in a single location and did not dismiss the case. The defense lawyer also argued that the accusations were false, and that the girl and the boy were in “deep love”. He questioned why the girl traveled to Kathmandu alone if she was truly threatened and claimed that simply taking someone to India does not constitute trafficking under Nepali law. He suggested that the girl made up the story because the boy did not marry her as promised. 

The girl's three lawyers then presented their cases. Our group was disappointed with the first two lawyers, who spoke briefly and informally, failing to address the defense's points adequately. The third lawyer, however, effectively countered the defense by emphasizing the girl's age, her lack of understanding as a minor, and the power dynamics at play. He argued that the girl acted out of fear for her safety and her family's, not out of free will. He also addressed the constitutional point, stating that the possibility of trafficking could not be ruled out. The lawyer highlighted the broken promise of marriage and the travel to India as part of the manipulation. 

After this, our group left the court session to return to the IIDS office. This experience provided valuable insight into Nepal's judicial process, revealing both strengths and areas needing improvement in the justice system. 

We commend the Supreme Court of Nepal for incorporating AI into their proceedings, which is a significant step towards modernization. To further improve, we suggest organizing case schedules better to reduce long wait times between hearings. This will make the process more efficient while maintaining a thorough and respectful judicial process. Additionally, ensuring that serious cases receive adequate time for comprehensive deliberation without being rushed is essential. Continuing to prioritize the confidentiality of sensitive cases is also crucial and highly appreciated.

 

Ojal Rayamajhi, Tanushri Gauchan, Sanskriti Rijal & Kritika Bhandari, Summer Interns, IIDS prepared this event summary.

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