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Rule of Law and Nepal

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Liberalism emphasizes the importance of a legal system based on the rule of law. This means that the law should be applied equally to all citizens and the legal process should be transparent and predictable. Liberalism also embraces the concept that no one should be above the law and the law should apply equally to all. Transparency is maintained only if everything is done according to law. Therefore, it is one of the main principles of liberalism that governance should be done only through law and not by any particular person.

The rule of law is a fundamental principle of legal and political theory. It emphasizes that all are equal before the law. This concept says that no one is above the law. The 18th century French philosopher Montesquieu explained this theory. It prevents the arbitrary exercise of power. It implies that the formulation, implementation and interpretation of the law itself is legally regulated. Even high-ranking officials must comply with existing laws. In the rule of law, the application and adjudication of legal rules must be fair and consistent in similar cases. Factors such as class, status, or relative power should not influence legal decisions. The rule of law requires that laws be transparent, universal, and known to all. They promote that privileges should not be granted to particular individuals or groups.[1]

This article will discuss the historical context regarding guaranteeing the rule of law in Nepal.

History of Rule of Law in Nepal

Although there are not many written references about the rule of law in Nepal, the ancient scriptures and the Nepali society have been following certain rules and laws since centuries. Whether those laws were democratic or not is a matter of different discussion. The history of law in Nepal is found in religion and various religious texts. It is found that the justice system of that time was guided based on the scriptures, culture, social norms and conscience prevalent in Nepalese society at different times.[2]

There are various religious texts and other documents about the history of law in Nepal. The Hindu religious system is based on religious scriptures, especially the Vedas. It is believed to have developed between 4000 to 1000 BC. It used to guide the justice system based on texts such as Sruti, Smriti etc. At that time there were 2 types of laws: Mitakshada and Dayabhaga. Mitakshada was prepared by Vigyaneshwar, it is considered more liberal as it gives more rights to women. Dayabhag was prepared by Jimudwan, it provided for the inheritance of property to pass to the son.[3]

According to Hindu mythology, the entire universe is ruled by the Trimurti (three forms), which defines the trinity of the supreme deity in Hinduism. Trimurti means Lord Brahma (Creator), Lord Vishnu (Protector), Lord Mahesh (Destroyer)! The Brahma Legislature is responsible for formulating the laws and policies that govern society. Comparing Brahma and his role with Parliament, it is the responsibility of Parliament to amend and create new laws and acts to maintain peace and security in the society. Lord Vishnu (executive) is considered the protector of the universe and his role is to ensure that the universe is maintained and protected. Similarly, the role of the executive is to implement the laws made by the legislature and ensure their protection and compliance. Maheshwar (Judiciary) is responsible for interpretation of law (as Supreme Court, High Court, District Court and other judicial bodies), enforcement, and remedy of violated rights (gods go to Lord Mahadev for enforcement and remedy of rights and he judges devas and asuras with equality).[4]

There is a verse in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, a well-known book of Hinduism—Atmanah navadani parehyan na samacheret Atmanah navadvani parehyan na samacheret[5]meaning, what I do not want others to do to me, I do not do to others. This adversity means adverse to health, livelihood enterprise or business, education, personality as a whole, the body, public behaviour, values ​​established by the public, the state or the policies determined by the state. Being averse to this being averse to oneself and others. Therefore, it is favourable to act in favour of these advantages.[6]

While studying the history of legal system of Nepal, Kirant period, Lichchavi period, Malla period, Ramshah period, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s period, Rana period and the modern period should be studied and analysed separately. Legal governance in Nepal seems to have started from Kirant period.[7]

The rise and development of the Kirant civilization and culture had begun 7/8 hundred years before the rise of Anno Domini.[8] In this way, Kirats started to rule in Nepal from 1000 BC. Kirat civilization did not discriminate on the basis of caste as in Arya. Women were highly respected. Sati and slavery did not exist in the society. The society was egalitarian. Since there was no discrimination on the basis of caste and class, all citizens had equal civil rights. The Kirati state at that time was a democratic state. But at the same time, in the Aryan civilization and states in the Indian subcontinent, there were not only class and caste discrimination but also discriminatory practices such as slavery and sati.[9] It is mentioned in various historical sources that 27 to 32 Kirant kings ruled Nepal for about 800 years.[10]

During the Kirant period, there were 4 different tribunals, Kunther, Shulli, Ligwal and Mapchok. The most important source of law during the Kirant period was the Mundhum. Mundhum is also the scripture of the Kirants. Under Mundhum were Dhungsab and Pesap. Dhungsab was based on the Vedas. Rules were made especially about birth, death, marriage, property etc. Theft, robbery, murder, etc. were considered crimes. Inter-caste marriages were recognized during this period. There was a provision for divorce and death penalty to murderers. The King gave the final judgment to the people and could delegate the right to make laws to certain individuals.[11]

Nepal’s history illustrates that Lichchavikal is the first authentic history. Nepal under Gopal, Mahishpal and Kirantkal—which was before Kirants—are called mythological, mythical or primitive histories. The records at Changunarayan of Saka Samvat 386 (AD 464) issued by King Mandev mark the boundary between Nepal’s mythological history and authentic history.[12] Based on the fact that King Manadev belonged to the Lichchavi dynasty, as confirmed by Jayadeva II’s record of Samvat 157 (the second third Samvat believed to have been ruled by Anshuvarma) at Pashupati, the estimated four hundred years of rule by Mandeva and his successors is called Lichchavikal.[13] The authentic monarchical history of Nepal started from this era. As it was the first authentic monarchical system of governance, the Shah Dynasty rulers also gave special importance to Lichchavikal.[14]

During the Lichchavikal period, the legal system was operated on the basis of various Smriti, scriptures Sruti, Manusmriti, Yajnavaklya Smriti, Brihaspati Smriti, Narada Smriti and Sukraniti. During the Lichchavi period, bodies like Bhattadhikaran and Mahadhikaran were in the palace to look after the administrative system. Bodies like the Purwadhikaran and the Paschimadhikaran were appointed to look after the justice. At that time, crimes were classified into 2 types namely Panchakhat and Panchamahapataki.[15]

Nepal Sambat 500 (1436 B.S.), during the Malla reign, Nardip Samhita, a human law book (in Newari Language) was written and the system of justice started. The social system was governed by the creation of fundamental laws in matters such as pledge, partnership, donation box, slave, wage labour, theft, sale, behavior, land, marriage, marriage, share, abuse, domestic behavior and customs such as gambling.[16]

In 1663, when Ram Shah became the king of the Gorkha kingdom, he made various laws and implemented them in practice, among which, he made rules and laws in 18 and 26 bullets, such as roads, planting trees in pandhera, not to charge more than a certain rate of interest, weight should be equal to manapathi, and oil should be taken by turns. Since the time of Ram Shah, it has become a saying that if justice is lost, go to Gorkha. Prithvi Narayan Shah is also the king of Gorkha kingdom, but instead of making laws, he decided to expand the kingdom and become the king of a bigger kingdom.[17]

Before the unification of Nepal by Prithvi Narayan in 1768, his ancestor Ramshah in his kingdom of Gorkha had strengthened the justice system by creating numerous laws (thiti). Without relying much on memory, he created written laws (Ain) and also made the customary laws of people as a basis for settling disputes. The time frame of legal Nepali starts from the records of the time of King Damupal in 1038 to the time of King Surendra in 1910 that saw the enactment of the old Basmulki Act issued 1909. Sanskrit language influenced that early legal Nepali. This is mentioned in Manusmriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Narada Smriti and Sukraneti as well as the language of jurisprudence around 1455 B.S was sanskrit. The period from the Civil Code, 1910 when King Surendra Vikram Shah ruled to the new Civil Code, 2020 is the period of rise of legal Nepali language.[18]

When King Shri 5 Prithvi Narayan Shah went to Nuwakot, the arti and upadesh he gave during his final moments to his brothers and sisters is now known as Prithvi Narayan’s Divya-upadesh. Prithvi Narayan Shah died in January 1831. Historians claim that he said the things in Divya-upadesh a few days before his death.[19] It was published as a book on December 27, 2010. It was printed in ‘Goraksha Granthmala’ from Kashi before it came in form of a book.[20]

Prithvi Narayan Shah’s Divya-uapdesh says, “Appoint a Thakuri in a bureaucratic position of the court, add a Magar to assist the judge, appoint a Pundit to each case and run the court in accordance to the scripture. The ones who disturb the justice system are the ones who are corrupted—both receiving and giving—and even taking their life would not be a sin as they are the great enemies of the state.”[21] It is found from the history that justice system was conducted under Yajnavalkya Smriti during Prithvinarayan Shah period.

His Divya Upadesh[22]  mentions thiti i.e. law-making like Ram Shah and Jayasthiti Malla.[23]

Some legal developments seem to have taken place in Nepal during the Rana period. Civil Code 1910 B.S. (implemented by Junga Bahadur) is the first written law of Nepal. It is also based on Hindu religious law. The Constitutional Law of Nepal 2004 (implemented by Padma Shamsher) has been recognized as the first constitution of Nepal.

The period from the Civil Code, 1910 of the reigns of King Surendra Vikram Shah to the new Civil Code, 2020 is the period of rise of legal Nepali language. This civil code, which codifies the laws limited to various Sanad, Sawal, Sthiti, restrictions, history, is a historical and very important book from the point of view of linguistic usage. Since there was no special work for the upliftment of the legal Nepali language before, the Civil Act of 1910 is also considered as the first written law book.[24]

After that, King Ram Shah also looked at the condition of the obligated. King Jayeshithimal also looked at the situation of obligated. King Mahindramalla also saw the status of the obligated. If God allowed, I too wished to bond twelve thousand of such obligations.

In 1903, Jang Bahadur Rana took the government power in his hands and thought that the legal system should be reformed. 219 different personalities gathered together and discussed as well as implemented the Civil Code of 1910 throughout the state. There is also a saying that when Junga Bahadur Rana visited Britain, he had the opportunity to learn about the civil code made by French Emperor Napoleon and the communal system of Britain and thus it motivated him to make laws and govern the country. 173 Mahal’s Civil Code is the first written legal document of Nepal. Amending this act, other Rana Prime Ministers successively arranged Adda Adalat Koti Linga Itachapati, Taksar and Dhansar system. Bringing the concept of judiciary and court and the work of industry, agriculture, bank and insurance started from the time of Judd Shamsher.

With the aim of separating the judicial function from the executive in cases where it is inconvenient to perform judicial functions by the bodies of an executive nature or institutions of an administrative nature, the Supreme Court was established on 1st Shrawan, 1997 B.S. The establishment of the Supreme Court is a milestone in the judicial history of Nepal. The judgments of the Supreme Court, which carried the legacy of judicial history, were somehow lost. Today those judgments have been explored and made comprehensible in modern Nepali language.[25] At the time of Bir Shumsher, there was an arrangement of the Muluki Adda, Goshwara Adalatt, Char Adalat and district court.

Efforts have been made since ancient times to establish the rule of law. It is also a historical issue of Nepal that everyone is subject to the law and can use their freedom without harming others. The state should not interfere with the freedom of individuals but should try to give an impression that they are living under the rule of law.





[5] Srimad Bhagwadgeeta



[8] Acharya Baburam, Nepal of Ancient times, Shreekrishna Acharya, 2063


[10] Pokhrel, Aupson. “Legal System of Kirat Dynasty – the #1 Encyclopedia of Nepali History.” Encyclopedia of Nepali History, 10 Dec. 2023,



[13] Dhanbajra Bajracharya, Records of Lichchavikal, page: 548)





[18] Kanun Inveshika 2074, Kathmandu School of Law



[21] The king used to look for justice, did not let injustice happen in the state. The ones who disturbed justice were the ones who took and gave bribes, even taking their lives would not be a sin as they were the enemies of the king.

[22] Prithvi Narayan Shah’s Dibya Upadesh

[23] After that, King Ram Shah also looked at the condition of the obligated. King Jayeshithimal also looked at the situation of obligated. King Mahindramalla also saw the status of the obligated. If God allowed, I too wished to bond twelve thousands of such obligations.

[24] Kanun Inveshika 2074, Kathmandu School of Law