Two year libel case comes to a close

Verdict: Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) will have to pay Nu 0.45 million as compensation to Dasho Paljor J Dorji after the party withdrew the defamation case it filed against him the Thimphu dzongkhag court bench five ordered yesterday.

The defendant, Dasho Paljor J Dorji also known as Dasho Benji, is compensated for “all the harassment, mental agony, infamy, indignity and inconvenience, which he has undergone” because of the defamation case.

The compensation has been determined considering the nature and background of the case, the social standing and milieu to which the defendant belongs, and taking in to account the fact that the defendant is a senior citizen of distinguished accomplishments and a well regarded figure in the country.

“The accusations against the defendant injure him more than the ordinary citizen,” the verdict stated.

The court’s Drangpon Ugyen Tshering dismissed the defense counsel Younten Dorji’s submission to convict DPT for corruption and sedition charges.

However, the court after a preliminary examination of the video clip of the 2013 July 19 meeting of the party found that there is a prima facie case of sedition against the party.

The court ordered the Attorney General to direct and co-ordinate with investigating agencies to conduct thorough investigations into the allegations of sedition and file appropriate criminal charges against the perpetrators in court.

The trial court could not conduct further investigation on the allegations and evidence presented to it as the Supreme Court order issued on July 17, 2015 and the High Court rulings on numerous cases, bars judges from imposing criminal sanctions in cases filed as civil suits.

Therefore, the court verdict stated that it will be illegal for the dzongkhag court to adjudicate on the alleged crimes of sedition, corruption and other criminal issues raised by the defense counsel.

DPT withdrew the case in April 2015 and had repeatedly asked the court to dismiss the charges of sedition against it as the defendant submitted evidence and claimed otherwise.

The plaintiff submitted that they are concerned with the implications of the case.

“By being a party to what could constitute a historic blunder, the plaintiff fear that both the parties as well as the judge would stand guilty of a sin we will regret but cannot undo,” the party’s legal representative and MP Ugyen Wangdi submitted.

The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code’s section 153 allows the plaintiff to withdraw the case. The section states “at any time after the institution of a suit, a plaintiff may, as against all or any of the defendants abandon his or her suit or a part of his or her claim”.

The section also states that, “the party may be liable for such costs as the Court may award calculated in accordance with the minimum wage rate.”

However, since the defendant did not incur any legal cost on account of the counsel having provided pro bono legal services to the defendant, the court said DPT is not liable to pay any legal costs to Dasho Benji.

As per section 153 of the Penal Code and sections 36, 37, 38, and 39 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code the court found DPT liable to pay compensation to the defendant for the damages he suffered.

The sections, however, do not specify the amount nor establish a definitive and clear system of the regulation of legal costs and compensation for malicious and vexatious litigation.

The absence of case precedents or comparators to give the court concrete guideposts for the calculation of costs and compensation left the court in a quandary, compelling it to use its discretion to award costs and compensation.

“The amount of Nu 75 million claimed by the defendant as damages is too unreasonable. Even for the death or permanent total disability of a victim as a crime, the maximum compensation allowed is 10 years daily minimum wage rate which is Nu 0.45 million,” the verdict stated.

The maximum compensation for a libel suit is Nu 0.135 million according to  section 321 of the Penal Code.

DPT claimed that Dasho Peljor J Dorji on August 15, 2014 had intentionally and maliciously defamed the party by posting a defamatory online comment on Facebook stating: “After having robbed the country blind DPT has the gumption to raise its voice? Hahahaha.”

DPT asked the court that Dasho Peljor J Dorji be convicted for libel under the section 320 and 321of the Penal Code of Bhutan.

Section 320 of the code states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offense of libel, if the defendant defames another person through the means of writing, drawing, or photographing.” It submitted that the post had tarnished the image of the DPT as a political party.

The two parties together had a total of 215 pages of pleadings, submissions, and evidence before the court as they battled for the past two years and three months.

Tashi Dema and Tshering Palden