Thursday, August 23, 2007

Justice turning ‘frighteningly’ expensive for hoi polloi

How costly is justice in Nepal? Consider these: Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj has been paying his leading lawyers 700 to 1,000 US dollars per hearing in the Supreme Court and 300 to 500 dollars per hearing for those lawyers assisting them.

Sobhraj’s lawyer Rajaram Dhakal admitted it. Former attorney general Badri Bahadur Karki, senior advocate Basanta Ram Bhandari, advocates Lokbhakta Rana, Rajaram Dhakal and Ram Bandhu Sharma have been defending Sobhraj.They have been defending him since his arrest in 2003 on a charge of murdering two backpackers in 1975. “It depends on hearing and the time consumed in the hearing process and other things,” Dhakal added. Asked whether their fee is too expensive, Dhakal replied: “Not for French national Sobhraj, as Nepal’s legal system has become much expensive.”“Because of procedural difficulties, a client has to pay for a long time and so he may feel justice is expensive,” he added.The fee the lawyers charge shows the country’s legal system is getting expensive for the poor.

Prominent lawyers Harihar Dahal, Bharat Raj Uprety, Anil Kumar Sinha, Badri Bahadur Karki, Sushil Pant, and Shambhu Thapa fall in the league of the most expensive lawyers. Ganesh Raj Sharma, Basanta Ram Bhandari, Radheshyam Adhikary and Kamal Narayan Das constitute the second most expensive rung.According to a lawyer, the most expensive among the lawyers have been earning around Rs 10 lakh a month and the second most expensive lawyers Rs three lakh a month. The third set of expensive lawyers has been earning around Rs one lakh every month; the next lot earns just enough. However, only a few have been paying tax in the ratio of their income.Those lawyers who plead cases related with business sector, company, murder cases, corruption cases have been earning much. “Even poor people have been getting justice. So it is wrong to say that justice is expensive,” Shambhu Thapa .

“There is a practice of providing legal aid to the poor and even we have been helping those who cannot afford to pay much”.Attorney General Yagya Murti Banjade said he was surprised to learn that some lawyers have been earning a fabulous amount. “Some lawyers have been earning millions of rupees annually,” Banjade added. “I never expect that much, even though I have spent a long time as a lawyer,” he said.Vice President of Nepal Bar Association Hari Prasad Uprety said the system has failed to provide justice to the people as it is too expensive. Many people, even if they were more sinned against than sinning or got a raw deal, shun courts as the system is “frighteningly expensive”, he reasoned. He added it should be an issue how much lawyers charge and from whom. “No question should be raised if the client can pay but we should not charge anyone who cannot,” he added.A lawyer wag said it all: The poor get cheap lawyers, the affluent and the crooks, legal hawks. Touche!

Ananta Raj Luitel @ himalayatimes

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