Judiciary: If Bhutan is to ensure sustainable development, the rule of law and fair justice is necessary, said the Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk.

The Chief Justice was addressing representatives from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, the Supreme Court and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who had gathered to map and integrate a justice sector plan for 12th Plan yesterday.

The UN has embarked on 17 international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Goal 16 of the SDGs is to ensure just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

The representatives will contribute to develop a list of smart indicators for the justice sector and a multi-sectoral justice strategy to assist agencies in achieving respective targets set against various indicators.

The Chief Justice said that although justice is tied to peace, it is also increasingly associated with economic and social development. “If there is to be sustainable development, the rule of law is an absolute necessity.”

The democratic culture coupled with rapid economic development and technological advancement creates special challenges for judges, legislators and the entire legal system.

Chief Justice said technological advancement has given rise to new crimes such as cyber crime, and pornography, among others.  “In addition, increasing complexity and sophistication of human affairs continue to lead to a growth in legislation and administrative regulation.”

In the meanwhile, Bhutanese society is becoming more affluent and informed with better education. The proliferation of laws and the increasing awareness amongst the population has made the citizens more conscious of their rights and, as a result, people will have greater and rising expectations of the justice system.

In this context of the greater and rising cumulative expectations, the legal system will have to face the challenges in the administration of justice, said the Chief Justice. “There are few institutions in our society today which are subject to more intense public scrutiny than the justice sector.”

The challenge, therefore, said the Chief Justice is to perform our constitutionally-mandated and statutory roles in a rapidly changing environment in a way that “commands respect and the confidence of the society we serve.”

He said that it is not only the judiciary but also the entire justice system that must safeguard the rule of law and the individual rights of all while contributing meaningfully and intelligently to the economic and social development of the country. There is a need, he said, to enhance public and media understanding of the role of the various actors and institutions in the justice sector.

The fundamental importance of institutional independence and the mechanism of checks and balances must also be disseminated.

The Chief Justice said that it is not enough to have many bodies of laws and that equally important is the need to publish and disseminate the laws and legal information and bring them to the knowledge and attention of the people.

“For a small society, we perhaps enact too many laws and at times they are contradictory,” said the Chief Justice, adding that lawyers are agents of change, which is why their quality and ethics are important. “With more lawyers graduating every year, the challenge is to maintain the quality.”

Representatives said that the justice system lacked support in the past and continues to suffer from lack of adequate infrastructure, funding and human resource needs impeding the functioning of the institutions.

The Chief Justice said the justice sector must be given the respect it deserves and kept free from undue pressures and influences. He added that the justice sector must continue to strive to adopt, implement credible and comprehensive reforms and strategies to create a justice system that is conducive to the progress of a democratic society.

Attorney General Shera Lhendup said that more than the judiciary, the agencies involved in processes before cases reach the courts have more to do in delivering justice. “There are series of exercises that take place before a case reaches the court and in that lies the procedural justice.”

Unless there is this procedural justice clearly laid down and clearly understood and exercised consistently in the integrated manner, one would not get proper justice from the courts because prosecution would not have quality evidence and will result in loss of a nation’s resources, he said.

The Attorney General added: “Instead of talking about the independence of institutions, we need to interlink justice between agencies as it cannot be looked at in isolation.” One institution resolving its problems, he said, could enhance the efficiency of the other agency in the justice system and vice versa.

The two-day workshop supplements the Gross National Happiness Commission’s efforts to formulate the guidelines for the 12th Plan. In order to bring relevant government agencies together to take ownership of the plan, the plan formulation will undergo an inclusive and participatory consultation.

“We need not be philosophical or dogmatic but practical,” the attorney general said.

The representative from Gross National Happiness Commission, Lhaba Tshering, said that the formulation of the plan has only begun and such feedback could be looked into and further discussed.

The two-day deliberations will culminate in a white paper on Justice for Bhutan geared towards achieving an over-arching strategy mapping out the current scenario and framework for the justice sector in the 12th Plan.

Tshering Palden