The fire female bird year started on a positive note for the judiciary with the institution agreeing to endorse regulation on accountability in March.

Referred as the Judicial Responsibility and Accountability Regulations, it is the process of initiating a complaint, investigation, and possible actions that can be taken against judicial personnel.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, the President of Bhutan National Legal Institute and Jigme Singye Wangchuck School Of Law called on the judiciary to shoulder more responsibility by emphasising that judiciary must strive for people’s trust.

HRH said the judiciary should make concerted efforts to maintain the trust and confidence of the people and be able to change their perceptions.

Judiciary established the Bar Council of Bhutan (Jabmi tshogdey) in May, 14 years after the Jabmi Act was enacted by the Parliament. It constitutes seven members with an independent representative as per the Section 3 of the Jabmi (Amendment) Act 2016.

The Bar Council is expected to encourage and promote integrity, efficiency and responsibility of private practising lawyers, determine cases of misconduct against private practising lawyers and promote legal education.

It would also look into providing pro bono legal aid to indigent person and to conduct selection examination for and maintain a role of private practising lawyers.

By mid-year, the judiciary shed light on a controversial issue of naming and shaming where the investigating agency, especially the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), came under criticism for publishing photographs of suspects.

Some justices, during a workshop with the media, said naming and shaming of suspects should be the last baton for the media or any investigating agency before the due process of law is followed. It was made clear that police may release the identity of the accused only in public interest and release photographs of fugitives or absconders from court warrant and evading arrests.

However, the RBP carried on publishing photos of suspects on their social media page.

The judiciary came into the limelight again in July when the Supreme Court, in a precedent-setting judgment, ordered that all those convicted in the Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+) related cases could pay thrimthue in lieu of prison terms.

The judgment released about 554 people arrested in relation to abusing SP+ between September 1, 2015, and June 6, 2017.

The Supreme Court also issued a notification on August 16 to courts across the country, asking OAG and police to verify that the appellant was involved in SP+ case while they have been charged for SP. The OAG received more than a dozen reports from family members contesting that their relatives were wrongly charged for SP while they were arrested with SP+.

In October, the High Court dismissed the constitutional case Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) filed against the government stating that the party does not have locus standi to file a case on fiscal incentives (FI).

Tashi Dema