Rinzin Wangchuk

A 91-year-old man in Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar, was left landless and homeless after the court seized his properties without following proper legal procedures and triggered public concerns.  

The case centered around his eldest son, who, in his early 70s, had obtained a loan of Nu 25 million from the Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) by mortgaging his father’s land, orchard, and building without involving the property owner or obtaining consent from family members. 

This unfortunate incident is not an isolated case. 

Three separate cases involving illegal private money-lending have led to couples in Dangrina, Dechencholing, a 75-year-old woman and her daughter in Babesa, and a businessman in Paro losing their homes and lands due to loan sharks’ deceitful tactics. Courts ruled in favour of these loan sharks based on forged documents and without conducting proper judicial investigations. 

In another distressing case, three children in Sarpang have been desperately seeking intervention to save their family property, which was mortgaged without their consent or knowledge. The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited justified the loan of Nu 5 million, claiming to have obtained all necessary documents. However, one of the siblings alleged that the contractor had forged her sister and brother’s thumbprints to secure the loan using their family’s property as collateral.

To prevent such cases from arising in the future and to provide better protection for victims and defendants, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has come up with significant reforms.

These changes aim to strengthen the involvement of victims and defendant representatives in criminal and civil cases, addressing concerns raised by victims and complainants, who have long felt unheard and uninformed throughout the legal process.

As the entity responsible for providing legal services to the government, ministries, agencies, autonomous bodies, and local government institutions, the OAG has amended the “Rules of Procedure for Prosecution 2018 and 2022” to promote transparency and inclusivity. The key focus is on enhancing the engagement of victims and defendant representatives, allowing them to play a more active role in legal proceedings.

Under the new guidelines, victims, complainants, legal guardians, or authorized persons will have the right to attend court proceedings, with exceptions for In Camera or closed-door trials. The attorney concerned will facilitate their presence in consultation with court officials, ensuring their active participation in the proceedings.

In the case review process, prosecutors will now consider the best interests and preferences of the victims. Factors such as the impact on the lives of suspects, victims, witnesses, and the public, discussions on compensation in accordance with the law, considerations of bail requests, and providing victims with information about the case outcomes and appeal decisions will be given careful consideration, according to the press release from OAG.  

Additionally, prosecutors will be able to obtain personal statements from victims, detailing the physical, emotional, mental, and financial impact of the crime. “These statements will shed light on whether the victims felt vulnerable, intimidated, or experienced personal attacks, damage, or disturbance,” the press release stated.  

To ensure fairness, the OAG emphasises the involvement of defendant representatives. The attorney concerned, in consultation with the Chief of Prosecution and Litigation Division (PLD), will provide regular updates on case reviews to the defendant’s representatives upon official approach. After charges are filed and registered, evidence may be shared with the defendant’s lawyers or authorized representatives, following consultations with the chief of PLD and the Attorney General.

These reforms by the OAG are aimed at creating a more inclusive and victim-centric legal system, where victims and complainants have a voice and are kept informed about the progress of their cases.  “By actively involving defendant representatives, the OAG seeks to uphold fairness and transparency throughout the legal process,” the press release stated.