The Jabmis (lawyers) play a pivotal role in the administration of justice in society. Article 7, Section 21 of our Constitution states: “Person shall have the right to consult and be represented by a Bhutanese Jabmi of his choice.” The Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee notes: “Jabmi belongs to the noble fraternity of legal counsels.”

With the emergence of hundreds of private Jabmis in recent times, the people’s right to choose their jabmi has been expanded exponentially. However, with increasing Jabmis, this “noble fraternity” is also seeing some cracks.

There are complaints filed against some Jabmis in the Bar Council. And there are several informal allegations or gossips against this noble fraternity. While any allegation must be taken with a pinch of salt, reports strongly suggest that there are some serious issues where our innocent people are losing faith and confidence in our noble fraternity. There are allegations of collusion between the plaintiff’s jabmi and defence counsel. There are reports of demanding the clients to pay a certain percentage of property in dispute or its value as high as ten percentage amounting to millions in addition to their pre-decided fees. Further, there are also allegations that some Jabmi refuses to reply to their clients, do not update or consult their clients on the case. Some clients also claim that Jabmi requires the entire fee before taking the assignment and some Jabmis ignore to execute Jabmi-Client Agreements. 

One of the primary duties of a Jabmi is to act as an agent of the client to represent and protect the interests of the client within the parameters of the law and serve as the official of the court to assist the court to ensure administration of justice. Other important duties of a Jabmi under the Jabmi Act includes honesty, good morals, ethics, proper attendance to the matters of clients, not holding meetings with a client of another Jabmi, not retire from the case once started, not to mislead or put the client in a wrong stand and assist the court in expediting the case.  

A Jabmi, before being certified to practice law, is required to take Oath or affirmation before the President of Jabmi Tshogdey to “conscientiously discharge” their duties without fear or favour to the best of their ability under Section 25 of the Jabmi Amendment Act 2016.  Therefore, every Jabmi certified to practice law has legal, constitutional, moral and ethical responsibilities while performing their duties.

Jabmi Act also mandates an agreement between Jabmi and the Client to fix reasonable fees for the services. Thus, Jabmi must execute an agreement to agree on fees and detail the services. Further, Section 46 of the Act states that “fees shall not be deducted or paid from the property, which is the subject matter of that case.”

Jabmi has the right to retain the client’s documents or papers until agreed fees are paid. Therefore, it will be wrong for any Jabmi to charge the fees based on the value of the property or ask for shares from the property in dispute as it is illegal. Jabmis must remember that people come to them because they are desperate and looking for help to represent them and not to loot them.  Doctors save lives, Jabmis save generations, and both are called noble professions and one must prove worthy of such profession.  

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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