In a precedent-setting judgment yesterday, the Supreme Court ordered all those convicted to date in the Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+) related cases could pay thrimthue in lieu of prison terms.

The judgment will release 554 people arrested in relation to abusing SP+ between September 1, 2015 and June 6, 2017.

Of that, 381 have been charged to various courts. The police had seized 254,226 tablets of SP+.

The Court’s judgment issued yesterday on the first SP+ case in the country involved a 23-year old man, Jamyang, who was arrested with more than 1,125 capsules of SP+ in Mongar. He was arrested in May 2016.

Jamyang’s lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court after the High Court upheld the Mongar dzongkhag court’s judgment, which convicted him to nine years and six months in prison.

OAG charged him for a third degree felony and had two convictions against him. Mongar dzongkhag court enhanced the charge to a second-degree felony.

The accused’s defense lawyer, Sonam Dendup, appealed on the grounds that SP+ is not in the scheduled list of controlled substances and requested the court to acquit him.

The defense lawyer said that if individuals are being charged and penalised without any clearly written and publicly disclosed laws, it might violate the very principle of the rule of law.

“There cannot be penalty without law,” Sonam Dendup, during one of the court proceedings, said.

The Office of Attorney General (OAG) justified that although SP+ is specifically not categorised as a controlled drug in the Act, it should be considered a controlled substance since it has elements of Spasmo Proxyvon (SP).

Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency’s pharmacist attested to the Supreme Court that the main content of the SP drug is dextropropoxyphene, where as the main content of SP+ is tramadol. “However, all other elements in both SP and SP+ are the same, and the two drugs have the same effect on the user,” the BNCA’s pharmacist submitted before the court.

The Supreme Court judgment stated that cases related to SP+ should have been charged as a violation of the Bhutan Medicine Act 2003’s section 29 (7).

The judgment stated that tramadol not being listed in the annexure list of controlled substances of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse 2015, is not covered by the Act.

Jamyang was detained in prison since his arrest on May 11, 2016 until yesterday. The judgment allows him to pay thrimthue in lieu of his remaining prison term.

The judgment alters all the non-compoundable imprisonment sentences to compoundable ones, where the convicted can opt for payment in lieu of their sentences.

The judgment would also become law for the enforcement agencies and courts deciding on such cases henceforth until the Parliament makes any changes related to the issues.

Several OAG lawyers had come to attend the landmark judgment. A lengthy discussion between the OAG lawyers and defense lawyers on the judgment ensued outside the court.

“This is a sound judgment and will benefit the public at large,” a defense lawyer, Sonam Dendup said.  “We’re very happy with the outcome.”

Tshering Palden