The National Council (NC) members by the show of hands endorsed all the provisions of the final resolutions on legal aid services and legal aid to indigent persons yesterday.

All the 21 members present at the session voted “yes” to endorse the resolutions that the legislative committee framed.

Samtse NC member Sangay Khandu, who is the committee chairperson, said that they had to crosscheck the verbatim of the Jabmi Act discussion after some members of the house said that Bar Council is responsible to be the lead agency to provide legal aid services during the last deliberation on the topic on November 24.

It was found out that Bar Council had mandate of providing pro bono services to indigent persons but did not have the mandate to spearhead the legal aid services.

“So the house formalised the provision of legal aid services and legal aid to an indigent person in the country as a top priority by ensuring that legal aid services are provided to both the civil and criminal cases,” said Sangay Khandu.

He said that the provision of legal aid services and legal aid to indigent person had not been initiated despite having clear provisions in the Constitution and other existing laws such as the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan, 2001, Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan, 2011, Domestic Violence Prevention Act of Bhutan, 2013, Evidence Act of Bhutan, 2005 and Jabmi Amendment Act of Bhutan, 2016.

The resolution stated that only a token amount of annual budget has been allocated for the purpose but it has also never been utilised. “There is neither an agency designated for providing legal aid services nor public defender office in the country.”

It also stated that existing institutions such as the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), judiciary, Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and Bar Council do not seem appropriate to initiate legal aid in the country due to conflict of interests and differing mandates.

The resolution stated that in case of civil matters, due caution should be exercised right from the beginning to prioritize the nature of cases such as those concerning family (matrimonial), children, domestic violence, monetary matters, land or property issues and issues arising from infringement of constitutional rights for the purpose of providing legal aid to indigent persons.

“The legal aid services and legal aid to an indigent person are available from the time the accused is held in the custody to facilitate sufficient means to fairer judicial determinations,” it stated.

The legal aid as an indigent person, according to the resolution, should be eligible to persons with an income of Nu 39,000 in a year based on national minimum wage of Nu 125 per day (Nu 3,250 per month), or Nu 69,648 in a year for urban areas and Nu 39,012 in a year for rural areas based on the mean monthly per capita household expenditure of 2012.

It also mandates educational and awareness programme to raise awareness of the importance and availability of legal aid services to the general public and in particular, among police, courts and community functionaries.

The resolutions have been sent to the government. “Since NC is a continuous house, members will review the government’s response during the 21st session,” Sangay Khandu said.

Tashi Dema