The speedy delivery of justice is a fundamental pillar of any legal system and the rule of law. However, the quality of justice is just as important as the speed at which it is delivered. As Lord Hewart famously stated in the case of Rex v. Sussex Justices: “Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.”

Numerous factors can impact the quality of justice, including the duration of proceedings and the workload of the courts. While there are no written laws or rules mandating that decisions must be rendered within a year in Bhutan, an internal mechanism exists to ensure that judges render decisions within this timeframe.  However, some courts are struggling to meet the one-year deadline due to the sheer number of cases they handle. This raises concerns about the quality of justice being delivered when courts are overburdened. It is crucial that the legal system ensures that justice is not only delivered quickly but also fairly and effectively.

After conducting a brief analysis of the Annual Judiciary Report 2022, it is evident that although all judges hold the same status in their respective courts, their workload varies significantly. In 2022, the Judiciary registered a total of 8,239 new cases, with 1,806 cases carried forward from 2021, and decided on 8,262 cases. For instance, Dorokha Drungkhag Court had a total of 71 cases, while Gelephu Drungkhag court had 371 cases. Lhamoizingkha Drungkhag Court had 33 cases, Weringla Court had only 17 cases, and Lingzhi Drungkhag court had only 15 cases a year. In comparison, Phuentsholing Drungkhag Court Bench I alone had 365 cases, and Bench II had 339 cases.

The Gasa District Court had a total of 61 cases, in comparison to the Paro Court Bench I and II, which adjudicated 292 and 348 cases, respectively. The Punakha court had a total of 453 cases. However, the Thimphu District Court takes the cake with a whopping 794 cases in the civil bench alone, followed by commercial bench I with 491 cases and the family and child bench with 478 cases. In contrast, the two benches combined in Wangdue Dzongkhag District court only had 376 cases. Similarly, the Zhemgang District Court had a total of 113 cases, while Lhuentse had 83, and Samdrupjokngkhar had only 74 cases.

The Civil Bench under Thimphu District Court has been able to decide more than two cases every day. In contrast, the Samdrupjongkhar court had more than four days to decide a single case, while the Lingzhi and Weringla Drungkhag Court had over 18 and 20 days, respectively, to decide one case.

The Civil Bench in Thimphu faces an enormous challenge in delivering quality justice, as a single judge in civil bench alone adjudicated more than 11 percent of the total cases from Dzongkhag Courts in 2022. Similarly, the Phuentsholing Drungkhag adjudicated over 40 percent of the entire Drungkhag Court cases.

This disparity in workload raises concerns about the quality of justice and the efficiency of the judiciary system. One of the solutions is to assign judges with lighter caseloads to assist districts that are overwhelmed with cases through a special assignment for a brief period or establish additional benches within the courts or abolish some dungkhag courts. It is crucial to ensure that judges are not overburdened with cases, as this can lead to errors and delays in the delivery of justice.   

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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