Many resort to social media to claim injustice 

Tashi Dema

More and more people are resorting to social media, especially Facebook, to share their grievances and frustrations about the judiciary. Some are blatantly accusing the judiciary of miscarriage of justice using Facebook videos, while others are openly criticizing the judiciary.

Should they be penalized for being in contempt of court? Are the cases being reviewed after litigants seek public support?  Or is it a desperate attempt to seek justice? The questions are many.

In the words of a law practitioner, the recent trend of people resorting to social media to share their stories of injustice provides an opportunity for the judiciary to check abuse of power and corruption.

“The judiciary will have to initiate an inquiry to establish whether there is any truth in what has been claimed online,” a former judge said. “If there is truth, judges should be removed and suspended and tried like any other individuals. This is an opportunity for the judiciary to clean the system.”

He, however, said that if there is no truth to the claims, people going online should be held accountable.

Another former judge said that if people have to “scream” online to seek justice, it shows how those in decision-making seats could abuse their institutions with utter incompetence.

Law practitioners said the National Judicial Commission should look into complaints against the Supreme Court, and the High Court should look into the complaints against dzongkhag and drungkhag courts. “But when no one bothers about the complaints, it is dangerous for the justice system.”

Two people vented their frustrations on Facebook last month, alleging miscarriage of justice.

On December 7, former Trongsa dzongdag Lhab Dorji’s daughter posted a video on Facebook, alleging her parents did not get a fair trial.

The Supreme Court was supposed to dismiss the case, but conducted a miscellaneous hearing after the Facebook post.  

In another case, a woman resorted toFacebook on December 30, alleging miscarriage of justice in a settlement related to the sale of a building in Olakha.

Karma Choki, 37, alleged court officials mistreated her and did not allow her to make a partial payment.

While some law practitioners said that social media is providing a platform for people to exercise their right to free speech, many said that it is important for the judiciary to respond to such claims, as it is not about a particular judge or the court, but about people’s faith and trust in the judiciary that is at stake.

A senior lawyer said that the online videos could be legally wrong, but it is practically right in a country where there are no jury trials. “Once the issue is in the media, judges tend to look into the issue again, although the case should be deliberated whether litigants petition online or not.”

A law practitioner said that the people have poor trust and faith in the judiciary and the judiciary has to look into the allegations.

He said that most Bhutanese today are not legally qualified to understand the complexities of cases and if the judiciary remains silent, it will impact the public’s trust and faith in the judiciary. “It will also affect the independence of judges, as it would become trial by social media.”


Why social media?

While many feel that litigants resort to social media when they do not have any other options and have nothing to lose; litigants and relatives said they did so, expecting the judiciary to take another look into their matters and provide justice.

“We never meant that everyone in the judiciary is corrupt, but we wanted justice,” a relative said.

But there are also many anonymous complaints against the judiciary, about which law practitioners said the judiciary should be concerned.

They said the National Judicial Commission should formulate progressive policies. “Until now, it has only looked into transfer cases and has not done anything according to the mandate,” a former judge said.

While many justices from the judiciary refused to answer Kuensel’s query on the issue, a Justice from the High Court said the judiciary had not responded to allegations because the judiciary code of conduct and ethics and integrity prescribed in the Judicial Service Act, and bench books prohibit them. “We have always assumed that truth will prevail itself and we need not defend ourselves.”

He said the judiciary’s mandate is to determine truth based on due processes of law and maintain the sanctity of the institution. “But times have changed now and we need to find a mechanism to address these issues. We have to look into the allegations and if there is truth, the judiciary should not shy away and ensure the grievances are addressed.”


Sub judice?

Some sections of the society opine the online grievances to be sub judice, meaning a case under judicial consideration or trial, and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.

A senior lawyer said when people who are frustrated by the slow, incomprehensible, baffling justice system, make a public outburst and purposefully interfere or interrupt a legal proceeding, it is an offence against the judicial authority.

He said that when people resort to such measures, it is clearly a penal offence as stipulated under the Contempt of Court offence and the competent court has the power to direct the police to initiate an investigation.

“The Court may also showcase the party for that cause, demanding why he or she shouldn’t be implicated for contempt,” the lawyer said. “Social media is a direct threat to the integrity and public trust, as people are gullible and judgmental without knowing details of the case.”

He, however, acknowledged that social media has always played an instrumental role. “It occupies enormous influence and power, not only in the function of government machinery, but also in the mind of people at large.”

Social media, he added, contributes to forming opinions and public opinion has an indirect influence on the decision of the cases being tried at the Court. “The unhealthy trend of resorting to the social media arena, soliciting people’s opinion for unfair allegations and practice are increasing.”

A judge claimed that although there are contempt of court proceedings, especially when the matter is sub judice, the judge against whom allegations are made cannot initiate any contempt proceeding. “It would be a conflict of interest.”

He also said the National Judicial Commission and higher courts should initiate the investigation and determine contempt if necessary.