Thinley Namgay

The Joint Session (JS) of Parliament yesterday adopted the highly disputed Civil Liability Bill of 2022, also known as the Tort Bill. 

The bill, which received mixed reactions, aims to establish an efficient public service system and foster a safe and just society through enhanced accountability, good governance, and the rule of law.

Out of the 64 members present during the voting process, the Bill garnered 44 votes in favour, while 13 members voted against it. Seven members opted to abstain from the vote, signalling the contentious nature of the legislation.

The Tort Bill holds immense significance as it seeks to prevent instances of negligent deaths and injuries while ensuring fair compensation for losses and damages incurred by individuals and public property due to civil wrongdoings.

During the legislative process, a total of 81 clauses faced heated debate between the two houses of parliament. To address these disputes, the Joint Committee (JC) was formed with the objective of finding common ground and resolving contentious sections.

MP for Bartsham-Shongphu, Passang Dorji (PhD), the chairperson of the Committee, presented 36 practical clauses to the JS during yesterday’s session, garnering significant support from the members. The remaining clauses primarily pertained to matters such as translation, sequencing, and redundant provisions.

One particularly disputed clause concerned the remedies for deaths resulting from wrongdoings. The National Council (NC) proposed that the maximum compensation award to a claimant in the case of a person’s death should be equivalent to 21 years of the minimum wage. However, the National Assembly (NA) reduced this figure to 10 years of the minimum wage. Ultimately, the Joint Session endorsed the Committee’s recommendation of a minimum compensation period of 15 years.

Chairperson Passang Dorji argued that a minimum of 15 years was a reasonable timeframe considering the repeal of other sub-sections that previously allowed damages for gratuitous attendant care services. He highlighted that if the remedy were set at 10 years of minimum wage, it would amount to Nu 675,000.

However, there were dissenting voices. MP for Drametse-Ngatshang, Ugyen Wangdi, and Lyonpo Yeshey Penjore argued that maintaining the compensation period at 10 years would be a more practical approach. Lyonpo pointed out that if the national wage rate increased to Nu 500 per day, the compensation amount would reach approximately 2.7 million.

Regarding damages for loss of earnings, the JS  decided to adopt the Committee’s proposal, which suggests that the maximum penalty imposed by the court should range from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of 15 years of the minimum wage.

The issue of contributory negligence sparked debates as well. The NC maintained that an employer could not claim defence in personal injury cases caused by the negligence of an employee who was in common employment with the injured person at the time of the incident. However, the NA and the JC ultimately cancelled this section, with some members arguing that its repeal could also hold employees accountable.

On the subject of professional duty, the Committee accepted the NC’s  recommendation. The clause stipulates that a person providing professional services would not be liable for negligence if their actions were deemed competent professional practice, widely accepted by professionals in the country at the time of providing service. 

However, the court has the authority to disregard peer professional opinion if it considers it irrational or contrary to  a written law.

Regarding liability for livestock trespass under section 71, the NC proposed that livestock owners should be held accountable for any harm caused. However, the  NA  and the JC revoked this proposal, emphasising the need for mutual resolution of such matters.

The Tort Bill also outlines compensation for non-economic losses, including pain and suffering, mental harm, and loss of enjoyment of life. Individuals affected by civil wrongdoings would be entitled to ten years of the minimum wage as per the provisions of the bill. 

The Bill initially underwent deliberation in the  last year. In July 2022, the NC adopted it and subsequently forwarded it to the NA.

Once the Bill officially becomes an Act, an estimated Nu 3 million will be allocated for the drafting of relevant rules and regulations, consultation purposes, and the implementation of advocacy programmes and research.

The Bill will now be submitted to His Majesty the King for the Royal Assent, marking a critical step toward its enactment and subsequent implementation.