The Thrimzhung Chhenmo enshrined comprehensive substantive provisions relating to the civil, commercial and criminal matters such as land, marriage, inheritance, weights and measures, loans, murder, theft, cheating, defamation, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, etc. It also enjoined important civil and criminal procedure, due process and fair trial principles such as the right of litigants to an independent judge appointed by the Druk Gyalpo, and the duties of judges to recuse from the case if there was a conflict of interest. It was one of the first reforms initiated by His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Third Druk Gyalpo. Although, it was tabled in the National Assembly in 1953, the law was adopted only in 1959. 

Recognizing the important role of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Richard Whitecross wrote:

‘The creation and adoption of the Thrimzhung Chenmo (Supreme Laws) was a conscious move initiated by the Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (1952 –1972) soon after ascending the throne. According to Dasho Shingkarlam, a retired official, one of his duties when he was appointed secretary to the King was to “[jot] down ideas concerning criminal and civil laws, which … came through to His Majesty. There were already three such notebooks when I took over…It seemed His Majesty incubated the ideas… I was to draft the ideas found in these notebooks in some coherent structure and form” (Ura 1995:227). It is less clear to what extent this image of the King’s role as law maker is accurate. Several informants suggested that the late King was most directly responsible for the sections on hunting and fishing, leaving the remaining sections to be drafted by other officials. The role of the King in the drafting process may be unclear, yet the majority of Bhutanese describe the law code as the work of the late King. By this association with a deeply venerated monarch, the Thrimzhung Chenmo gains an important foundation legitimating its authority over all Bhutanese. A second important thread of understanding is intertwined with the role of the King as law-maker, namely that the Thrimzhung Chenmo was in effect a codification of the traditional laws of Bhutan.’


His Late Majesty’s initiative is reflected in the Menon’s report dated August 20, 1949:

‘As in Sikkim, the constitution of Bhutan has up to now been that of a feudal hierarchy… His eldest son, the Maharaj Kumar, obviously of strong character, was helping very much in bringing about this change. If these developments continue one may expect to see Bhutan becoming stronger and more unified in the future.’ 

I overheard His late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck telling Kadroep, Dasho Kolay Lam in Trongsa in 1972 that he would like to devote his time to improve the judicial system with his experiences and expertise in law.

The Sen’s draft

Dasho Shingkhar Lam mentioned to me about the Sen’s draft of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo. According to Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck (Ashi Tashi Dori 2017.4):

‘Our Father retained Sirdar D.K. Sen, a prominent Constitutional lawyer, who had been Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Chamber of Princes, to advise Bhutan on the Treaty. He was tremendous help to our Father and to Bhutan.’

The file called Sen’s law in Dzongkha had the following drafts:

Draft Bhutan Arms Regulation Statute, 1949/1950. ‘This Statute may be called the Bhutan Arms Regulation Statue, 1954, and shall extend throughout the territories of His Highness the Druk Gyalpo.’ This statue has 24 clauses with different schedules. 

‘This Statue may be called the Bhutan Land Regulation Statute, 1950, and shall extend throughout territories of Highness the Druk Gyalpo.’ It has 17 clauses, which were translated in Hindi and Dzongkha.

This Thrimzhung is called Menjong Drug-gi Thrim-zhung. This Thrimzhung shall extend throughout the territories of His Highness the Druk Gyalpo from 1951. This draft in Dzongkha only, which has 9 clauses covering citizenship.

‘This Statute may be called the Bhutan Nationality Statute, 1955, and shall extend throughout the territories of His Highness the Druk Gyalpo.’ It has 9 clauses.

A Scheme for the Organisation of Post Offices in Bhutan written both in English and in Hindi.

Title of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo

The first title of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo was Menjong Drug-gi Thrim-zhung. The title was changed to the Thrimzhung Chhenmo later on.

Thrimzhung Chhenmo means the Main Supreme Law. It was often written as the General Law.

The constitutional values

The Thrimzhung Chhenmo has a constitutional core value provision under OM, AA, HUM, which were not there in Sen’s draft. The constitutional values of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo are:


OM: Except for His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo, all other citizens of Bhutan, irrespective of their rank, social status or official position are equal under the Thrimzhung Chhenmo. This enshrines the principle of equality under law and a humanist value ‘Rex non potest peccare’, the king can do no wrong. 

AA: Other than His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo, no person is authorized or allowed to increase or reduce or commute penalties imposed under the law. This provision enshrines the Royal prerogative to reduce or pardon any penalties.

HUM: Any Kasho (royal edict) issued by His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo as an injunction or directive to the general public, the Dzongkhags (districts), villages or to private individuals shall remain in force as laws under the Thrimzhung Chhenmo until such time as they are withdrawn by His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo.

Section Da 1-7 of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo enshrines:

‘The Thrimkhang shall not convict any person without a full hearing and until the charges against the accused are proven and supported by witnesses or documentary evidences. No person shall be convicted on the basis of suspicion, doubt or hearsay.’ 

This provision entails important principles of criminal justice system such as right to a fair hearing and the presumption of innocence (every defendant is innocent until proven guilty). 


Jurisdiction of the Menjong Drug-gi Thrim-zhung with territorial jurisdiction over the whole kingdom under His Majesty (Nga Dag Gyalpo Chhenpoyi Nga-zhap) legalized total and absolute sovereignty over the other feudal chieftains by the King.

The Thrimzhung Chhenmo had an elaborate and detailed codification of law enacted by the National Assembly. It had Seventeen chapters under the Bhutanese style, Ka Kha to Tsa.

Legal system

The Thrimzhung Chhenmo marked beginning of a continental system like a Napoleonic Code as under:

Da 1-5 ‘The judge shall decide cases and award punishment strictly in accordance with the provisions of the law. He shall not allow himself to be swayed by any personal opinions while interpreting the provisions of law.’

The Thrimzhung Chhenmo was a digression from the customary and equity laws with a few fragments. It ushered in the Rule of Law and advent of the positive laws.


The Thrimzhung Chhenmo was debated from 1953 and it was enacted in 1959. The National Assembly recorded:

‘Keeping in view the welfare of the general public, His Majesty the King enacted the National Law (Thrimzhung) (Ka) (Ma), which was scrutinized by the members of the National Assembly. This would be made available to all Dzongdags. In this connection, His Majesty was pleased to command that all members should scrupulously conform to the above law. It was also informed that the provisions not covered under the above law would be enacted and framed by His Majesty.’ 

Contributed by

Sonam Tobgay

Former Chief Justice 

of Bhutan