The Supreme Court has been trying for years to ease the burden of backlogged cases, some of which have been pending for more than five years. According to Monday’s data, there were 17,529 cases pending for more than two years and 4,819 cases dating back more than five years.
There are nearly 29,991 files pending.
According to Supreme Court officials, an average of 70 cases are heard per day, but on Fridays the number is lower. Last Friday, only 61 cases were heard.
Now that the government has imposed a two-day weekend from May 15, the court is about to clog even more. If 65 cases per day are taken into account, no less than 3,380 cases cannot be heard in a year, which adds to the workload of an already overwhelmed Supreme Court.
A report by Justice Hari Krishna Karki in July 2021 also pointed out that the Supreme Court is overloaded with two-decade-old cases.
Experts say the weekly two-day furlough system will increase backlogs, which will affect the public’s right to justice. According to them, justice alone is not enough in a country that believes in the rule of law; for justice to have meaning, it must be done on time.
Supreme Court officials say the case clearance rate declined for two years after the covid pandemic hit the country. Then, in October last year, the judges launched an agitation, refusing to hear cases. Then the lawyers joined the judges’ protest. The imbroglio greatly affected the hearings. Months after the benches fully resumed, the government introduced the two-day bank holiday rule.
In April, Sushil Koirala, co-secretary at the Ministry of Justice, who led a seven-member study group to find ways to reduce the existing workload, presented a report to the Minister of Justice of the time, Dilendra Badu.
According The reportthe Supreme Court’s caseload is 3,347 per seat, compared to 706 per seat in the high courts and 743 for each of the district court judges.
Nepal’s judge-to-population ratio is one of the worst in the world, with only 15 judges per million people.
The Supreme Court currently has 19 judges and 10 benches, as Mira Khadka retired and Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana remains suspended since February 13.
There are a total of seven High Courts with 18 benches [seven permanent and 11 temporary] across the country, with a total of 160 judges. Currently, the posts of five chief justices and 19 judges are vacant, according to Man Bahadur Karki, spokesman for the Judicial Council Nepal.
In 77 district courts there are a total of 287 judges. Currently, 43 district judge positions are vacant.
The panel led by Koirala report made a number of recommendations for settling cases quickly and efficiently, including the determination of the duration of the benches and their strict implementation; setting a deadline to manage hearings, arranging to have only one lead counsel; classify cases according to their importance; and adopting a system to hear them constantly.
It is not that the Chief Justices of Nepal are unaware of the high number of cases pending before the Supreme Court.
While speaking at a reception hosted by the Bar Council of Nepal on Sunday, Acting Chief Justice Deepak Kumar Karki said that after taking office, the rate of case resolution had risen. from 8% to 15%.
“When I took over the arrears clearance rate was 8%. But I increased it by two percentage points every month and now it has reached 15% since yesterday. [Saturday],” said Karki at the function on Sunday. “There have been complaints that the pending cases are more in the Supreme Court compared to the district and high courts. Since many cases remain to be processed, we are working to improve it.
Karki became acting chief justice on February 13 after Rana was automatically suspended following the registration of an impeachment motion by 98 lawmakers in parliament.
According to a Supreme Court official, the benches which used to start hearing cases at 11 a.m., these days begin at 10.30 a.m. and the closing time has been increased by half an hour from around 4.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. This resulted in an increase of one hour of work for five days.
Observers, however, say this is only scratching the surface as the court does not hear a single case on Sundays.
Balaram KC, a former Supreme Court justice, said opening the benches half an hour earlier and closing them half an hour later would not help the case resolution rate.
“The two-day labor will definitely lead to an increase in backlog cases,” KC said. “Anyway, in Nepal, service seekers on Fridays are often asked to come to the office on Sundays, which effectively means there is no work on Fridays.”
According to former Chief Justice Anup Raj Sharma, the two-day vacation actually means three-day vacation because there has been a tendency in all government offices, including the courts, to regard Friday as a ” half day”.
The five-day policy has also been implemented in the Supreme Court in the past.
According to former judges, at the time of then Chief Justice Bishwanath Upadhyaya [1991-1995], the Supreme Court had declared two public holidays. The objective was then to allow the judges on Sunday to write down their decisions.
But this was not practiced even for six months.
“Two-day vacations are already a failed practice,” KC said. “The judiciary should not rely on trial and error.”
This time’s two-day vacation system, however, is not implemented by the Supreme Court on its own, as the policy was declared by the government.
According to Sharma, having a five-day work schedule can only be called good if it increases efficiency.
Officials say they are aware of the cases pending before the Supreme Court and are working to reduce the caseload. Some of the measures being discussed send cases to lower courts.
Koirala, co-secretary in the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, said the government was working to amend some laws so that certain cases brought before the Supreme Court could be finalized by the high courts and other specialized courts. such as the Special Court, Administrative Court, Labor Court and certain courts – Foreign Employment, Revenue and Debt Collection.
“We are trying to ease the burden on the Supreme Court and increase the capacity of existing specialized courts,” Koirala told the Post. “We have not yet recommended changing the constitutional provisions, but have proposed revising up to 24 existing laws for this purpose.”
The number of Supreme Court justices has been set by the constitution.
Article 129 (1) of the Constitution says the Supreme Court will be made up of a maximum of 20 justices, in addition to the Chief Justice.
Sharma, the former chief justice, said there was a need for proper and detailed study to find out why the backlog of cases has increased. Justice should then try to find out what measures can be taken to increase the rate of resolution of cases, according to him.
The judiciary is the only institution in Nepal that remains closed longer than other government institutions. the supreme The court is closed for 15 consecutive days during the Dashain festival while other government offices remain closed for four to five days.
According to the Ministry of Interior, the number of annual public holidays after the government’s decision to impose a two-day weekend increased to 136 days from the previous 84, including 32 public holidays, including religious holidays. .
There are already leaves for judges, earned leaves, occasional leaves or medical leaves.
Observers say Nepal’s justice system has already been the subject of controversy and could face more crisis – a crisis of credibility – if it continues to have backlogs piling up. Timely resolution of cases not only helps maintain the rule of law, but also ensures prompt justice, the fundamental right of the people guaranteed by the constitution.
“We all know that failure to deliver justice in a timely manner is tantamount to justice denied,” said KC, the former Supreme Court justice. “But little has been done to reduce backlog cases.”