Monday, November 26, 2007

Judges, lawyers face threats
Kathmandu District Court (KDC) on Friday held a murder case hearing in a rather unusual way - amidst tight security.

The court's Chief Judge Narayan Prasad Dahal said a security cordon was inevitable as a mob on Thursday had threatened two defense lawyers leading to deferral of the case till Friday. The mob wanted the lawyers not to plead on behalf of the accused.

The incident is just the tip of the iceberg. In recent days, lawyers as well as judges have been facing threats from mobs and sometimes from Maoist cadres and its affiliate organizations, which put at risk the people's right to independent justice and to be defended in a court of law, legal experts say.

"Mobs come into the court almost daily," says Chief Judge Dahal. "Mob activities are growing."

The Friday’s incident at the district court follows a threat issued by a Maoist trade union to advocates Jyoti Baniya and Ram Krishna Simkhada on November 15. The trade union even staged demonstration against lawyers and a lawsuit they had filed at the Supreme Court (SC).
According to Nepal Bar Association (NBA), at least 15 lawyers received threats in the course of discharging their professional duties during last six months alone.

One case of threat involves a high-profile abduction and murder case relating to minor Bibek Luintel.

A group of people who wanted one of the accused "punished", surrounded the houses of advocates Tika Ram Bhattarai and Lava Mainali for being the defense lawyers of the accused. Bhattarai's house was surrounded twice. Then the lawyers gave up the case.

The growing threats against advocates have resulted in the accused not being able to defend themselves in a court of law. For instance, Sakhina Manandhar, an accused in Bibek's murder, could not find a lawyer to defend her application (for bail) in the SC last Monday after her previous lawyers - Bhattarai and Mainali - quit the case. The SC decided on the application even though no lawyer represented Manandhar. She is still in custody.

"According to the principle of criminal justice, a case should not be decided in the absence of lawyers of an accused. Her right to be defended was not respected by the court. The court should not have decided the case," Bhattarai said.

In the meantime, Judge Dahal remembers that he had to hide lawyers on one or two occasions in his chamber to protect them from possible attacks from mobs.

Judges too face threats

In a recent instance, a group threatened Supreme Court Justice Ram Kumar Prasad Shrestha during a hearing. Justice Shrestha put off the hearing of a murder case recently.
"Hearings of at least three cases have been deferred recently due to mobs," says Hemanta Rawal, co-spokesperson of the Supreme Court. "The mobs try to influence judges."
Similarly, KDC Judge Dahal said that his colleague Shiva Naryan Yadav has already been escorted twice to his home from the court to avoid possible attack by mobs.

Judges say that pressure-tactic activities of mobs at the court premises or in the hearing chambers of the court affect their decisions. "We get mentally distracted. We cannot take normal decision," Supreme Court Justice Anup Raj Sharma says. "We generally defer the case to another day."

Many people throng the courts on the day of hearing to "influence". The parties believe that presenting a crowd at the courts on the day of hearing will influence judges to decide in their favor. SC Justice Sharma said the growing threat against lawyers and judges have been taken seriously by the Supreme Court. "The Security Committee of the Supreme Court met on Friday and discussed the issue. We are holding a meeting with Nepal Bar Association as well in this regard."

BY KIRAN CHAPAGAIN @ kathmandu post

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