Private defense counsels, known as Jabmi, play a key role in the administration of justice in Bhutan. These counsels serve as checks and balances in the justice system and protect the citizens against the miscarriage of justice and abuse of authority by the prosecutors and State. The right to “consult and be represented by a Bhutanese Jabmi of his or her choice” is a fundamental right under the Constitution.

In Bhutan, all Jabmis wishing to practice law must be licensed by the Bar Council and must fulfil certain criteria, including academic qualification. Section 9 of the Jabmi Act spells out that such licensing is to “encourage and promote the integrity, efficiency and responsibility of Jabmis, regulate the Jabmis from any ethical behaviour or misconduct and to ensure just, a fair and prompt dispensation of justice.”

However, one of the major issues facing the public and Bar Council in recent times is the regulation service fees charged by Jabmis. There are rumours and allegations of Jabmis charging based on the outcome of the case. There are also reports where the Jabmis charging in percentage according to the value of the property in dispute including land as high as 20 per cent as services fees or in the share of the property in dispute.

Such conduct on the part of any Jabmi is gross misconduct and against all ethical values of a Jabmi. We must put an end to any such practice before it becomes rampant. Though it may be a few of them, it puts a dark stain on every Jabmi and cast doubt in the mind of the public and questions the ethical values of Jabmis. This means the moment the percentage is agreed upon, the Jabmis become the party to the case and may go to any extent to win the case including possible corrupt practices and tampering with evidence. This is considered serious misconduct because, ethically, Jabmis are supposed possess strongest ethical values to represent their client, not themselves.

One of the important steps to prevent such practice is to ensure that clients demand a written Client-Jabmi relationship agreement as soon as Jabmi agrees to provide the service. This agreement must provide clear details about the roles of the Jabmi, actual service fees and remedies in case of breach by either party. The service fees must be agreed upon as final irrespective of the outcome of the case and not otherwise. No Jabmi can and should assure a definite outcome of the case though Jabmi should brief the client on the probability of the outcome based on the facts and evidence the client shares with the Jabmi. 

The primary roles of Jabmi are to “conduct research and analyze a case to determine a probable outcome while devising an effective strategy to defend the clients in court” and generate options, prepare legal documents, attend hearings, communicate with the client, conduct oneself ethically and professionally and find ethical solutions to legal matters.

Any promise based on the outcome of the case will cloud the minds of Jabmis. The Rule of Law must prevail over individual interest, as only through the rule of law there will be true justice. Jabmi Tshodey can’t go after each lawyer to monitor how individual Jabmi conducts themselves. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.