Though the justice sector did not sink in a yearlong voyage, it encountered severe turbulence in its journey.  There were numerous incidents of unintended public attention, raising eyebrows against the justice sector agencies, including the legislature, the judiciary the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Anti-corruption Commission (ACC), and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP).    

The judiciary lost one of the senior-most justices of the Supreme Court and a District Court Drangpon under the serious charges of criminal conspiracy and mutiny. The direct detention and suspension of the Supreme Court Justice without impeachment process defeated the very purpose of impeachment in our Constitution. The Judiciary’s strategic paper reflected poor confidence of the public in the judiciary; the need to regain the public confidence is worrisome for the already ailing institution.

Similarly, the legislature also lost two members, the home minister, for fraudulent practice, and another member on account of violation of numerous provisions of the Penal Code. Many questioned if the government intentionally abused the system by not suspending the home minister for years including graceful exit from the parliament. Section 167 (2) of the Anti-corruption Act, 2001 states that “a public servant who is charged with an offence under this Act shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeals.”

However, other public servants like gups and many civil servants got suspended for similar situations but never the elected ruling members. 

The Office of the Attorney General also caught national attention for the wrong reason after the office charged a private citizen initially for defamation and later for sedition with no success. This case generated enormous discourse and debate, especially after the institution started issuing press releases to defend its action, which was unprecedented.  

The ACC faced public scrutiny after one of the family members of the Trongsa Land case shared damning statements on how the institution handled the case, especially the seized property. The ACC could have requested interim custody to keep the property in operation so that the property is not wasted or decreased its value irrespective of the outcome of the case. This case also revived the question of prosecuting authority of ACC once again as OAG reviewed and found no prima facie case. Yet District Court convicted the accused, and the High Court upheld convictions.  

The year saw news of police officers beating two farmers for not wearing helmets in Zhemgang and five traffic policemen accused of manhandling a driver. Such action challenged the fundamentals of due process of law and whether the law enforcement officers can take the law into their own hands under the guise of performing their duty. The RBP applied CCPC contravening Section 86 of the RBP Act. It is also noteworthy that while RBP did a great job in ensuring adherence to health protocols on Covid-19, they also imposed fines and forced people into their stations including taking statements in some places not wearing masks without legal basis since not wearing a mask is never made an offence under the existing laws.

With the start of the new year, let us hope that the justice sector will repair the cracks, heal the wounds, and regain public confidence through a robust accountability mechanism by following the wisdom of His Majesty’s National Day Address last year to uphold the rule of law.   

Contributed by Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.