Of new beginnings

Yearender/Judiciary: It was literally a year of new beginnings for the judiciary.

The year saw the inauguration of the seat of the judiciary, the new Supreme Court complex, inaugurated by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.  On June 15, Prime Minister Modi, who visited Bhutan as his first foreign destination after winning the election, unveiled the inaugural plaque of the Supreme Court.

Located in Hejo and constructed at a cost of more than Nu 705.50M, the Supreme Court comprises five buildings and is symbolically placed alongside Trashichhodzong.

With the Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye retiring on November 15 after an illustrious career of 43 years, His Majesty the King appointed Dasho Tshering Wangchuk as the new chief Justice of Bhutan on November 28, making him the youngest chief justice in the region.  His Majesty also conferred the orange scarf on Dasho Tshering Wangchuk, 51, in recognition of his sacred responsibility as chief justice in the service of the nation.

With the appointment of a new chief justice and superannuation of Justice Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen on January 15, the Supreme Court is short of two justices.  Justices of SC are appointed from among the justices of the High Court (HC) or from the eminent jurists, based on the recommendation of the national judicial commission (NJC).

Elevating two high court justices to the SC, if done, will further create a vacuum of seven judges at the HC level.  Although the HC is supposed to have a chief justice and eight drangpons, there are only four judges today to decide cases appealed from dzongkhag courts.

The judiciary decided 14,444 cases within 108 days.  The 37 courts across the country decided 20,249 of the total 21,604 cases in 2014.  The highest number of cases registered was monetary cases.

The year also saw the legislators and judiciary divide on the proposal to revisit the ‘age of consent,” which became a bone of contention.  A proposal from Dagana to amend the provisions on rape in the interest of the public, submitted to the National Assembly, was shot down, citing that such an amendment would make young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

As the interpreter and implementer of law, judiciary felt that specific provision needed to be revisited.  Maintaining its stand, the High Court in December last year acquitted a 20-year old man ,who was sentenced to nine years in prison for the rape of his girlfriend, a16-year old girl.

Gelephu dungkhag court on November 7 sentenced another 20-year old man to nine years in prison, despite his girl friend challenging the rape charges against her boyfriend.  She also submitted before the court that she was responsible for having consensual sex with him.

The Supreme Court saw its order to the legislative and executive arms of the government to revisit issues related to suspension snubbed.  The order, issued in July 2013 after the Gyalpoizhing land case ruling, stated that simplistic approach to suspension, to correct the mischief that officials were not being suspended by agencies incorporated in the Anti Corruption Act 2011, was ill conceived and illogical, as it did not consider all the factors associated with suspension.

The judiciary brought to justice people who violated laws.

The Mongar district courts from November 2014 to January 2015 sentenced 12 chorten vandals to life imprisonment, and 32 others received prison terms term ranging from one month to 37 years.

The maximum chorten vandal from Chaskhar gewog, Mongar, received 16 times life imprisonment, while two  other accomplices received 14 and 13 times life imprisonment.  More than 16 chortens were vandalised between 2008 to 2014 in Lhuentse and Mongar.

Between August and November last year, the Paro court sentenced 14 Indian nationals to terms ranging from six months to three years in prison for their involvement in five separate gold smuggling cases.  They were arrested at the Paro international airport.  They attempted to smuggle more than 12.6kg of gold worth Nu 36.3M, which was brought from Singapore and Dubai via Bangkok to India, by using Bhutan as the “illegal trade route”.

In a civil case that took about four years of trial, the Thimphu district court ordered the two brothers of the Tashi Group of companies, Tobgyal Dorji and Wangchuk Dorji, to compensate Nu 1M to their half brother, Kazi Ugyen Dorji, on November 27 for using the trade name ‘Tashi’ and good will of TGC in their new business ventures without the consent of their half brother.

Kazi Ugyen Dorji’s mother, Lhaden Pem Dorji, filed a legal suit on November 23, 2010.  At the time of Dasho Rimp’s demise in 2006, the market reportedly valued Tashi Group of companies at about Nu 30B.

 

Rinzin Wangchuk

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