In the past year, Bhutan’s justice system has grappled with significant turmoil, particularly within the judiciary, the Office of the Attorney General and the Royal Bhutan Police. As a new government takes shape, the judiciary separated from the civil service, a new Attorney General is the impending appointment, and the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GeSAR) initiative gains traction, the justice sector stands at the cusp of an important era, requiring comprehensive reform and transformation in the coming year.

Within the judiciary, the removal of two High Court Justices without much process marked an unprecedented history and risked vulnerabilities to other constitutional post holders. The lack of impeachment proceedings and the ambiguity surrounding their departure raise concerns about adherence to constitutional guarantees and the importance of the impeachment process. Moreover, serious accusations against the Chief Justice, involving allegations of protecting certain litigants from enforcement, add another layer of opacity to the functioning of the judiciary. The public remains unaware of the facts surrounding these events, emphasizing the need for increased transparency and accountability within the judicial system.

The removal of the Attorney General due to his involvement with two justices in a case of severe breach of the code of conduct sets a historic precedent. This development occurred at a time when the Office of the Attorney General was already grappling with a loss of senior attorneys, prosecutors, and legal officers due to the Australia Rush. The urgent need for experienced and professionally matured lawyers within the OAG underscores the imperative for rebuilding and reforming the institution.

Similarly, the Royal Bhutan Police faced challenges, including the conviction of one of its officers for the molestation of a constable. While commendable efforts were made in cracking down on drug trafficking after the 115th National Day Address, concerns arise regarding the premature disclosure of suspects on social media before their trials. This practice undermines due process, the presumption of innocence, and the privacy rights of the individuals and their families.

The recent delinking of the judiciary from the Royal Civil Service marks a historic and positive step, reinforcing the separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution. With newfound autonomy over its personnel, the judiciary must seize the opportunity to rationalize its manpower, provide comprehensive training, and develop a judicial cadre under the Judiciary Service Act and Rules.

The impending appointment of a new Attorney General by the new government presents an opportune moment to rebuild the reputation of the Office of the Attorney General. Reforms in the functions, autonomy, and code of conduct are essential to ensure that the Attorney General can effectively serve as the chief legal officer of the state.

Thus, the Royal Bhutan Police has an opportunity to cease the practice of posting suspects on social media before legal processes unfold. Upholding due process and the presumption of innocence is integral to the principles of the criminal justice system and aligns with Bhutan’s commitment to Gross National Happiness. Failing to do so risks compromising the country’s reputation internationally and inflicting procedural injustices upon the accused or suspects. As Bhutan progresses into the new year, a concerted effort is needed to reshape and fortify its justice sector in pursuit of a fair, transparent, and accountable system. The secrecy of judicial decisions must cease, and judgments must be made available to the public like any other legal system to help build public confidence in our justice system and protect its reputation.


Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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