Legal: The defamation case filed by Sonam Phuntsho against freelance journalist Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo has raised a question on whether courts should allow plaintiffs to withdraw a case at the last minute.

It also raises a question on whether the court followed the due process of law by not informing the parties about the case’s dismissal.

Bench 1 Drangpon Kinley Namgay, while rendering out the judgment yesterday, said the court was ready with the verdict but since Sonam Phuntsho came on January 23 with an application to withdraw the case, the court had to change the judgment to a withdrawal judgment.

This comes after a five month court battle between plaintiff Sonam Phuntsho, and defendants Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo. Five court hearings were held since August 12 last year and the litigants submitted evidence, which included personal matters to the court.

The court’s acceptance of Sonam Phuntsho’s request to dismiss his case one day prior to the verdict being handed down stands in contrast to it denying the pleas of Namgay Zam and the president of the Journalist Association of Bhutan (JAB), Rinzin Wangchuk’s submission to dismiss the case right after it was registered.

While the judgment states that Sonam Phuntsho was allowed to withdraw the case in accordance to section 153 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan, which 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 legal fraternity is divided on the implementation of the clause.

A senior law practitioner, requesting anonymity, said a court should not allow the plaintiff to withdraw the case in the last minute. “If such a trend is allowed, then many people would file cases and if they feel they are going to lose, they will withdraw in the last minute.”

The law practitioner also pointed out that section 153 of the CCPC should be amended and a clear sub-clause on when a plaintiff can withdraw the case  be added. “There has to be a time frame, either a week or a month but not when the judgment is about to be rendered.”

Many others with legal knowledge shared the same thoughts, some even writing  explicitly on social media about the need to amend the clause.

The other option, legal practitioners pointed out, could be by imposing exemplary heavy compensation on the plaintiff to deter such cases. “The compensation should not include the harassment the defendants undergo,” a law practitioner said.

Lawyers are also questioning if the court followed the due process of law by informing defendants Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo about the case being dismissed only while rendering the judgement.

A private lawyer, requesting anonymity, pointed out that the court should have informed the defendants about Sonam Phuntsho’s appeal and then asked them for their stand.

Another lawyer said that the court could allow the case to be withdrawn if there is no objection from the other party. “But when lots of incriminating evidence is put on the court’s record and when the case is allowed to be withdrawn, it is not fair.”

A law practitioner said that the court, while accepting Sonam Phuntsho’s appeal to withdraw the case, should also ask Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo to provide the legal costs they incurred and compensate them for the harassment and mental trauma incurred during the trial period.

While the drangpon refused to share the initial verdict despite telling the courtroom that it is ready, Sonam Phuntsho, outside the courtroom claimed that he would have got about Nu 1 million as compensation if he had not withdrawn the case.

Tashi Dema