Happening now: Judging without legal knowledge
Even as the government brought the concept of forming judicial committee, it has failed to deliver necessary legal orientation or consultation to these committees.
-Devendra Basnet, Dang : Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal
In what can be dubbed as surprising move, a mother filed a case against her daughter at the Deukhuri-based Gadawa village Municipality judicial committee in Dang following a land dispute a few days ago. Reason: the daughter “tricked” her mother and registered the latter’s plot of land in her name. The story does not end here. The daughter then ousted her mother from the house.
The judicial committee summoned both of them for a ‘futile’ discussion. Failing to settle the dispute, coordinator of the judicial committee and village municipality deputy chief, Shanti Chaudhary decided to move the court. Following an ‘advice’ from some elders and influential people of the village of settling the dispute, Chaudhary decided not to forward the case to court. However, now Shanti Chaudhary is in dilemma. “I don’t know how I should settle this dispute now. I made all efforts to resolve it through consensus, which did not work,” a baffled Chaudhary said.
The judicial committee has one more land-related case that is still pending. A woman from Gadawa village municipality-6 sold her land. Buyer, Patan Yadav filed a case at the judicial committee demanding that 6-meter aileni (land not registered in anyone’s name) land at the backside of the plot be registered in his name. However, the seller’s father-in-law remained adamant saying that he would not sell the 6-meter land, which he claimed, has ploughed it for years. Chaudhary, who has no legal knowhow, has been caught in a dilemma to resolve the disputes. Moreover, the judicial committee has no legal advisors to help her out. She shares, “I have no experience, no ability to settle such disputes. How is it possible for me to execute such a responsibility when I neither have legal knowledge nor advisors? I am in dilemma.”
Likewise, last week, a case was filed at Lamahi Municipality judicial committee against a man, who is absconding, on charge of polygamy. Coordinator of Lamahi judicial committee, Devaka Belbase is ignorant about legal nitty-gritty and legal procedures. “The culprit is absconding and I have absolutely no idea how I should get hold of him,” she said. “To be candid, I am burdened with unnecessary responsibility,” she complained.
Several such cases are pending at the Lamahi judicial committee. However, the concerned authorities or people’s representatives are totally ignorant about resolving these cases. “I cannot deceive people when I have no legal knowledge,” Belbase grins terming her responsibility to work on legal issues as a ‘herculean task’. Out of about 25 cases registered at the municipality, the committee has so far resolved domestic disputes on the basis of understanding between the two sides. However, complicated cases related to land and property rights registered at the committee are gathering dust. “Chances of getting trapped cannot be ruled out even if we try to resolve the cases on our own,” Balbase said complaining that the “state bestowed unnecessary burden to us without equipping us with proper knowledge.”
The government brought the concept of forming judicial committee with deputy chief as coordinator to settle cases at the local level after the formation of local bodies. The three-member committee headed by deputy chief of the municipality has two representatives elected from the wards.
Even as the government brought the concept of forming judicial committee, it has failed to deliver necessary legal orientation or consultation to these committees. The state has not even demarcated the provisions and criteria of the nature of cases that the committees are supposed to delve. Therefore, the coordinators of the committees are in tight-spot when it comes to resolving legal issues. Committee coordinators complain of being entangled in messy and acrimonious situation.
Jagadamba Chaudhary, Judicial Committee Coordinator of Rapti Village Municipality, is worried that giving judgment on a legal issue might lead to unfortunate circumstances or even get trapped in a tricky situation. She is one among the coordinators who has neither legal knowledge nor a legal consultant to help her out. In spite of all this, she puts on every effort to resolve disputes with the support of some elderly people of her village.
She too is candid to share that she lacks legal knowledge and understanding. “Sometimes we come across major issues. I get puzzled since I know I cannot settle the case?” she said talking about some “high risks of being backfired” even if she tried to give a legal advice. Among 10 cases registered in her committee, only a few related to ordinary domestic cases and disputes have been resolved so far. However, land and property cases are still pending with the fear of unfair decision. “It isn’t easy to settle the case of a person who has deceived 26 people,” shrugs Chaudhary. “We neither know his whereabouts, nor can we trace him,” she adds.
It’s been six months that local bodies have started to function. However, concerned authorities seem to be least bothered when it comes to imparting legal knowledge to judicial committees. “It would have been better had we been taught legal nitty-gritty to settle a case,” Belbase said. According to her, the government has not taken any initiatives to impart legal information and counseling since the formation of local bodies. Cases that have been pending in courts and other domestic cases are registered in judicial committees. However, the members in the committee are incompetent to settle the cases due to lack of proper legal knowledge, procedures and guidelines.
It’s been not even a week that judicial committee has been formed in Shantinagar village municipality of Dang. The committee has so far received cases related to domestic disputes, which have been settled on the basis of understanding. However, Mithila Shah, coordinator of judicial committee, is in a quandary about settling major disputes since she lacks proper legal knowledge. “Legal consultant is mandatory to settle cases,” she says.
Pima Khadka, coordinator of Judicial Committee of Dangisaran village municipality, who has worked in human rights sector before, shares, “I find it extremely tricky to settle cases, other than minor domestic disputes.”
The judicial committee of Babai village municipality has so far settled minor 5 cases out of 18 cases filed at the committee. The committee has been unable to settle serious cases. It has forwarded three major cases to the court. “We settled five cases, sent three serious cases to court and we are discussing on other cases,” Sabitra B.K., coordinator of judicial committee said. There have been instances of elderly and influential people, in the absence of legal advisors, settling cases in judicial committees. However, chances are high the coordinator of the committee might get in ‘politically prejudiced” trouble while trying to settle cases and disputes. Shanti Chaudhary, coordinator of Gadawa judicial committee has a bitter experience of being branded “politically biased” while settling a case. “People who are invited to settle a case sometimes become aggressive merely because of political inclination,” she shares her experience adding, “Sometimes we also get political pressure.” She, however, denies any decisions based on political motivation.