As Bhutan’s justice sector grows in size, complexity and relevance, the need for it to evolve to meet the emerging challenges grew too, according to the justice sector strategic plan 2018-2023.

The plan, launched earlier this month in Thimphu, stated that it is expected to improve coordination between justice service providers.

It also highlighted that a strong, responsive and inclusive justice sector has a wider influence on society and the success of national development goals. “In Bhutan, justice sector directly contributes to four of the nine Gross National Happiness domains.”

It cited psychological wellbeing, time use, good governance and community vitality.

It stated that good governance also explores people’s level of participation and their assessment of various rights and freedoms. “The Gross National Happiness Commission’s 12th Plan includes a new National Key Result Area (NKRA 16), which recognises the national importance of strengthening justice sector services and institutions.”

The plan identifies the Royal Court of Justice, Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), police, Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI) and Bar Council as the justice sector.

It also specified the challenges faced by the justice sector.

It stated that despite continuing efforts, courts face a number of challenges which are perceived lack of trust and confidence in the courts and justice sector with a social stigma existing if people need to go to court, lack of strategic plan for the courts, consistency in decision-making and in the application of procedures and system and low level of legal literacy and limited access to legal advise among others.

In the OAG, the use and management of the OAG’s resources is limited as a result of lack of human resource, planning and management capacity, absence of successful planning, the need to improve and expand the institution’s external case management systems and standardise and document the core processes are some of the main challenges.

It also stated that there is a need to streamline and standardise the use of English and Dzongkha throughout the justice or legal process. “With both languages used at different points in the justice process, staff must be proficient in both languages. There is a lack of clarity as to the role each language plays in the process and when it should be used.”

For the ACC, the main challenge is the ability to maintain its capacity to independently fulfil its mandate with consistent and sufficient financial allocations for its programmes and continuous capacity development of its staff. “The ACC’s administrative independence is also weak with the approval of all budget and human resources with the finance ministry, GNHC and Royal Civil Service Commission,” the plan stated.

The other persistent challenge is the staff recruitment and retention, high attrition rate, need to reduce the backlog of complaints qualified for investigation with only 36 of 96 staff being investigators, the absence of alternative administrative complaints mechanism such as an Ombudsman’s Office.

The plan stated that police face the challenges of limited capacity to analyse and produce quality and timely evidence, in particular, through the development of local forensic analysis capability and lack of a strategic plan, which makes it difficult for police leadership to articulate and communicate a clear strategic direction.

It also stated the need to improve data collection and reporting and strengthen investigation capacity and development of more effective systems or guidelines to improve the consistency and quality of evidence being gathered.

The BNLI lacks professional staff and has staffing, financial and infrastructure constraints.

It also stated that there is also pressure on BNLI with increasing expectations for training or services on the part of the judiciary, government and public.

For the Bar Council, the most immediate challenge facing the private legal profession in Bhutan is its full operationalisation.

Meanwhile, the plan will function as an umbrella under which the relevant sectors could work together. It is also a high-level framework to guide a coordinated, integrated and flexible sector level development in the sector.

Tashi Dema