Nima Wangdi

Five years after sending a resolution to the government on the need to provide legal aid services to indigent persons as mandated by the Constitution, the National Council (NC) members questioned the Prime Minister on the status of the service.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, during the question session at the NC yesterday afternoon submitted that he would hold the submission of the legal aid draft to the Lhengye Zhungtshog until NC completes the deliberation on Civil Liability Bill.

He said that his office received the draft rules of procedure for Legal Aid from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) two weeks ago.

“OAG wanted the draft to be submitted to the Lhengye Zhungtshog for approval, but I was still reading the draft while this question had been asked,” the Prime Minister said.

He said he would leave the draft with the NC chairperson so that members could deliberate on it and come up with appropriate suggestions.

Lyonchhen informed the house that going by the draft, he could already see some problems. “OAG will be the state prosecutor and it will also provide legal aid at the same time.”

Punakha’s member of parliament (MP) Lhaki Dolma asked what the government had done to provide legal aid as NC discussed it several times and the Prime Minister pledged to prioritise it while presenting the State of the Nation Report in 2020.

“There are many people deprived of justice as they have no legal knowledge, no legal advisors and they also can’t afford to hire lawyers,” she said.

However, Prime Minister said he has full faith and trust in judges and justices that they deliver justice. “Everyone is equal in the court of law.”

He, however, said like there is no surgery without complications, there could be some flaws even in the process of the justice delivery. “But I still believe that Bhutan has one of the best judicial system.”

Lyonchhen said that he doesn’t want to endorse anything on whether or not we should have the legal aid. “I feel this move should be supported but I also think that this could lead us to some problems in the future.”

He said the draft states OAG had already consulted the judiciary. “But I want to sit with the judiciary and the Royal Bhutan Police in person and discuss in detail.”

Lyonchhen said he had not talked in detail about the legal aid in the past sessions, as nothing had been done then.

Gasa’s MP Dorji Khandu said that there is no choice but to come up with the legal aid as the Constitution requires. “I agree that everyone is equal before the court of law, but it is also important that we understand the ground reality.”