The litigant’s comments on social media maligning the judiciary may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction 

Order: The High Court has warned a proprietor of a construction company based in Thimphu that it would initiate contempt proceedings if he continues to make unsolicited comments on social media and mislead the public.

The justices of Bench I issued a press release yesterday evening after the litigant Penjor solicited contemptuous comments through social media maligning the institution of the judiciary and reputation of the judges.

Penjor was reportedly aggrieved by the High Court verdict, which upheld the judgment of the Bumthang court on July 31. The lower court directed Penjor to pay back Bhutan National Bank Limited’s (BNBL) housing loan within a month. He then appealed to the High Court.

The press release stated that the institution of justice invariably is the last resort to determine facts, evidence and laws in the litigation. The judicial reasoning is arrived after exhaustive proceedings in a trial court and further review by the appeal courts and most importantly by the Supreme Court as the final resort of appeal for any grievances, it stated.

“As per the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, any person may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction for maligning the judicial authority, obstruction of justice and interfering in a case through verbal or in writing,” the press release stated.

The BNBL had sanctioned Nu 0.979M loan to Penjor on September 25, 2008 for the construction of a two-storied building in Bumthang. However, the initial plan of a two-storied building was changed to a three-storied structure without intimation to the bank.  For the additional structure, according to the press release, the bank was approached for an additional loan of Nu 1.821M on December 5, which the bank had sanctioned.

Penjor on May 16, 2009 requested additional loan of Nu 1.20M with Gem Tshering as the guarantor, which also the bank sanctioned. He again requested for additional loan but it was denied after the bank found that there was minimum progress at the site.

However, Gem Tshering made a personal request on behalf of Penjor and the bank sanctioned an additional amount of Nu 2M.  The press release stated that failing to complete the construction,  an additional loan of Nu 3M was again considered on the request made by Gem Tshering with the understanding that it would be the last disbursement and the bank would not entertain any further requests thereafter.

By 2010, Penjor had converted the building into a hotel construction, which was not as per the initial proposal.  But, a further additional loan of Nu 3M was yet again sanctioned upon the request and guarantee of Gem Tshering and Nu 4.5M was approved after several follow-ups.

The press release stated that assurances and justifications made by Gem Tshering took the total sanctioned amount to Nu 16.5M. The court established that Penjor had failed to update the interest portion and schedule the loan for repayment as per the written order of the bank. Regulators and auditors also questioned the bank as it had exceeded the gestation period permitted for construction loans.

“Moreover, his grounds of appeal to summon the bank official was overruled by the court as there was no prima facie evidence of official misconduct, commission or omission or otherwise dereliction of duties including the CEO,” the press release stated.

Justices said that the court as the guardian of fundamental rights and freedom of expression is viewed as sacrosanct rights of human beings.

“However, the Constitution and the law do not prescribe unsolicited and maligning comments, be it individual or institution. The social conduct must be guided by laws and norms in a given democratic society,” a justice said. “The usage of social media forum to vent out personal grievances which condemns unheard is beyond the scope of judicial sanctity.”

By Rinzin Wangchuk