The year 2022 will be recorded as serious turbulence and the best opportunities for the justice system. Numerous incidences in the different players of the justice sector have taught the lessons and created opportunities to transform itself with the rest of the nation-the era of transformation. The opportunities must be used as tools to instil public confidence in the justice system.
In the final month of the year, a senior bureaucrat was quoted “Good Governance is not only about the process, but it has to be about the outcome as well” sending shockwaves across the justice sector as it ignored the rule of law and the due process. His Majesty said, “we strengthen the Rule of Law and through the Rule of Law, we consolidate institutions of check and balance, which in turn promote good governance. It is said that the failure of justice persecutes an individual, but the lack of adherence to rule of law persecutes an entire nation.” The report also questioned the very definition of conflict of interest in such circumstances.
Office of the Attorney General sued a private individual for defamation. The judiciary admitted the case opening the floodgate public institution to sue individuals for defamation and protect themselves from any public criticism since then. The OAG inserting the power to compound criminal offenses in Civil Service Reform undermined the judicial authority and due process of law. Though the provision did not sail through the parliament, the insertion of the provision without relevance in the Bill raised many questions.
A Senior Officer of the Anti-corruption Commission getting stabbed inside the Supreme Court premise shook the justice system. It raised the question if ACC is professionally dealing with every case through a fair lens as the judgment was attended by all senior ACC officials deviating from their normal procedure for prosecution. The reports suggested that despite early information and a meeting, Royal Bhutan Police failed to protect the public officials on that day. Similarly, frequent reports of prisoners escaping prison and the sexual harassment case within the police and others involving police officers affected the reputation of the RBP as the institution of protection.
The parliamentarians while questioning the ACC on their prosecution authority under the constitution, decided to retain the authority of RBP to prosecute petty misdemeanours and below in every case. The House failed to foresee the possible unintended consequences or abuse of authority leading to charging the accused wrongly. It is not easy to classify the offence in every case.
However, this year also paved numerous opportunities for the justice sector. With the enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act, the entire human resource of the judiciary is finally delinked from civil service. This remained a major challenge in providing effective judicial services to the people. There is no better opportunity than this to transform the judiciary.
The lone stabbing case in the Supreme Court, prisoners and detainees escaping prisons and sexual harassment cases in RBP shows the weaknesses within our police. These lessons can be used to transform RBP through rigorous changes.
Upon the Royal Command, Bhutan National Institute is now given the opportunity to serve as a center of legal aid in the country. This will be like the light of justice for people who otherwise can’t access the justice system. This will immensely benefit the most disadvantaged group.
Sonam Tshering Lawyer, Thimphu
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.