However, most issues are being addressed by an ongoing reform

Judiciary: The first judicial integrity scan report which provides a host of recommendations to improve the judiciary was launched yesterday.

The report found that the main challenges for the judiciary is the uneven level of delivery of justice.

The report states that court users while lauding the quality of jurisprudence at higher courts in some jurisdictions, speak of repeated violations of ethics and procedures, as well as weak decision-making by many lower courts. These violations occur with registrars and bench clerks.

“Despite many good efforts to provide transparency, the justice system is still perceived by many as a rather closed institution,” the report states.

“In stark contrast to most transition countries, bribery is not a substantial issue in the judicial sector,” the report also states.

The report states that a widespread perception of arbitrary performance by the registrars, clerks, and judges will, in the language of the common citizen, often translate to corruption.

Having citizens perceive the judiciary as corrupt, means almost the same damage as having corruption occur in reality, the report says.

The scan found that many Bhutanese have not yet understood how the judiciary works in a democratic state of law. It says the people therefore will misinterpret a completely legitimate transaction, such as a court overturning a lower court’s decision, as corruption and a miscarriage of justice by the lower court.

The report states that on the positive side, it shows that the judiciary is subject to public scrutiny. The judiciary could take advantage of this and create as much awareness as possible for citizens, the report states.

The ongoing reform activities by the judiciary, already touch most of the points identified by this scan. However, as there are so many issues to be addressed at once, and at the same time, funding and staff are scarce, the outcome will not be visible overnight,” the report states.

Supreme Court Chief Justice, Lyonpo Tshering Wangchuk, said that the judiciary has not remained idle but implemented numerous strategies and reforms.

The Supreme Court issued guidelines and notifications clarifying the anomalies in applications of laws and court process to expedite cases in courts and bring about consistency in the procedure and judgments.

The judiciary is in the final stages of launching a pilot project where specialised courts would be set up in the Thimphu dzongkhag court. A green bench has also been established at the High Court.

The judiciary has drafted a money-lending regulation which will be finalised in consultation with the Royal Monetary Authority. Lyonpo Tshering Wangchuk said that the regulation is to curb the menace of informal money lending and also reduce the docket inundated with informal money lending cases.

He said that judges are human and that they are subject to the usual gamut of human frailties.

“Codes of conduct and performance evaluations, however high sounding, will lose their purpose without a corresponding disciplinary structure to address violations of these standards,” he said. “Thus, developing a system where the judges and court personnel can be held accountable for violation for rules, policies, and codes of conduct or other corrupt and unprofessional behaviour is an important element in creating accountability and encouraging professionalism.”

The Supreme Court will establish a complaint and disciplinary mechanism after the annual judicial conference this year. “It’ll demonstrate to the public that the judiciary is willing to meet proper standards and that action will be taken where there is corrupt or improper behaviour,” the chief justice said.

Bhutan National Legal Institute director Pema Wangchuk said 226 bench clerks have attended the training on judicial ethics and integrity. The institute will continue to conduct similar sessions for court officials in dzongkhags for which it has trained trainers. The institute also developed a guideline for the training.

The judiciary initiated the scan with the Bhutan National Legal Institute and Anti-Corruption Commission with funding from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The scan presents an overview of the legal and institutional framework for judicial integrity based on the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, the measures for effective implementation of the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct and the Implementation Guide and Evaluative Framework for Article 11 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The scan is based on a desk review of laws and reports, and on the views of stakeholders from the justice sector and civil society.

Tshering Palden