Judicial service, or justice, is a product. Consumers have the right to complain about defective products and seek redressal.

The establishment of the grievance cell is timely and will significantly contribute towards serving as a consumer forum for justice, or the judicial products.

Like any other product, consumers of justice, who are dissatisfied with the court decisions, will seek a grievance unit to address their grievances.  However, not every complaint merit redressal, because some will abuse such a forum, and others may not have the merit for further action.

This cell must not become the final appellate body as it may infringe on judicial independence and the non-interference principle.

In every case, one party will win and the other will lose. The judiciary decided 8,394 cases in 2021, meaning that at least 8,394 parties lost their case. If even a small percentage of people approach the grievance cell, it could overwhelm the system and cripple the grievance cell itself.

The justice sector comprises numerous agencies, and judiciary is just one among them. Thus, addressing every complaint, particularly court decisions, would be beyond the scope of the judiciary itself, let alone of the grievance cell.

Articles 1(11) and Article 21 of the Constitution recognises the independence and authority of the judiciary to interpret laws. Section 5 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) ensures non-interference in matters before every individual court, and Section 96 states that unless appealed, once the respective courts decide the case, it is final and binding. Further, both the Constitution and the CCPC also provide the right to appeal and negotiated settlements, the right of Jabmi of one’s choice, and legal aid in every case.

The independence of the judiciary or non-interference is neither the right nor the privilege of the judges but it is the right of all consumers of justice. Thus, if grievance cell reviews any specific decisions, it may inadvertently infringe the rights of consumers of justice.

However, like any other service or product, court decisions are not perfect and are vulnerable to both unintentional errors and deliberate wrong decisions. The grievance cell may review court decisions with a focus on these vulnerabilities and draw up recommendations to rectify the unintentional defects, prevent deliberate misinterpretation of laws, and punish any corrupt officials so that such defects or loopholes will not occur in the future cases.

This kind of grievance mechanism exists in many judicial systems. For example, in the United Kingdom, Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) performs a similar function; in India, it is handled by the Office Registrar General, Supreme Court; in Australia, it is dealt with by the Australian Federal Supreme Court as per the statute; and in the United States, it is dealt under the judicial conduct and disability Act by the Supreme Court.

The most common among these systems is that the grievance cell generally deals mainly with the “judicial office-holders conduct”, including misconduct, corruption etc., and not with actual judicial decisions.

His Majesty said: “The most cherished wish of the people is peace and prosperity; the law is the root of the peace and prosperity. Thus, no other goal should be noble than the creation of a society based on justice, equality, and fairness.”

The grievance cell must recognise the defects in judicial products and take initiatives to realise His Majesty’s visions. It must foster public confidence, the rule of law, and demystify any wrong information about the judiciary through proactive actions and avoid reactive measures.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.