… Police are investigating the case

Rinzin Wangchuk 

In what could be the first in the world, former Trongsa Dzongdag and former JDWNRH president stabbing an ACC official in the Supreme Court precinct after the court pronounced the final judgment, the flashpoint lays bare security lapses in the country’s highest appellate court.

The incident occurred between 3PM to 3.10PM on April 29. Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) officials and appellants and their family members were exiting the courtroom after the SC upheld the High Court’s ruling in the most controversial Trongsa land case.

Lhab Dorji, his wife, former Dragteng Gup, and former land surveyor of Trongsa were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 18 months to six years.

Lhab Dorji, who received a five-year prison term, stabbed ACC’s investigation director, Gyeltshen, on his left arm when he stepped out of the SC’s door. Gyeltshen also suffered minor bruises around his eyes.

During the altercation, according to eyewitnesses, some family members also started assaulting Commissioner Jamtsho. Later, police detained Lhab Dorji’s daughter and two sons along with their parents for investigation.

While Thimphu police are investigating the case, the Thimphu dzongkhag court yesterday denied bail requests for the three children.

An official from the police said that they would not be allowed bail until the investigation is over.

All family members appeared before the court yesterday. However, relatives were barred from entering the courtroom.

“We processed for a bail, especially for daughter since she has a girl child left with a helper at home,” a relative said. “The girl is not well.”

What went wrong?

An official from crime and operations division of RBP said that it was too early to say how the security lapses occurred as the case is under investigation. “We are looking from all angles,” he said. “Once it is established, we will point out where it went wrong and fix accountability on those who were responsible for the lapses.”

Some observers pointed out that the incident could have been prevented had the security personnel at the entrance gate performed their duties diligently; the sitting justices should have handed over the defendants to police as per procedures. 

One of the eyewitnesses said that ACC officials were not frisked while entering the courtroom.

“We were just told to keep our mobile phone on silent mode or switch it off,” one said. Kuensel also learnt that Lhab Dorji was not frisked; neutral party like reporters were screened and frisked before entering the courtroom.

Some observers are also questioning justices for not arranging police van and jailers to take the three defendants from the courtroom.

“This is a normal procedure. How come they just let both parties move out of the courtroom after pronouncing its judgment?” one questioned.

SC’s Registrar General, Gembo Dorji, however, said that a lawyer from Langchen Bench informed the Thimphu City Police at 11.25am on April 29 to send police van and jailers at 2.30pm as the SC was ready to send two men and a woman to jail.

“The court didn’t mention the particular case fearing the risk of information leakage,” he said, adding the same lawyer also reminded the police at 2.15pm.

No one came.

The court official called the police again at 3.22pm to send police personnel and van after the incident.

The SC’s CCTV malfunctioned. RG Gembo Dorji said that the CCTV installed by IT personnel of SC was disabled at noon on April 18. There was no record since then.

Two police officers met SC officials yesterday to establish the ownership of CCTV and who was accountable for not checking or fixing malfunctioned CCTV.

“We will also fix responsibility on them once the investigation is completed,” a police officer said.

Judgment leaked?

Some observers, and even legal practitioners, questioned why did all top ACC officials, led by the chairperson attend the last hearing for judgment.

“Someone from the court must have leaked the court’s ruling to ACC,” one observer said. “Otherwise, there was no reason for ACC officials to attend and intimidate defendants.”

ACC’s chairperson, Deki Pema, said that it was the duty of the commissioner to represent the Commission at the court because it was the end of the line of judicial process.

“We don’t know which way the decision would go. So, whichever way the decision goes, the commissioner has to be there to take the responsibility,” she said. “With due respect to the process, this was taken up by the commissioner, not because of vested interest.”

Deki Pema also said that it was an act of accountability and responsibility to attend the court hearing and also has profound effect on investigators to know that they are supported.  “At every stage, we look thoroughly; no case is done with vested interest but in the best public interest as mandated,” Deki Pema told Kuensel. “The fact that it is taken up by the institution, the Commission’s responsibility to be there. It is a standard of morality to be present in the court.”

On security issue, the ACC chairperson said that the Commission was not informed.  “We trust in the system, we will wait for them to do their part,” she said. “Hope it would be given due importance since the act was against Constitutional institution. If actions are not taken, work would be difficult. It will not be tolerated.”

Some observers also said that the judiciary messed up the case from the very beginning. “Because the court accepted the case without conducting a show cause hearing, now judiciary has to bear the brunt of the consequences,” a legal expert said.

In a criminal case, according to him, there should be an original cause of action. In this case, National Land Commission had failed to delete landholding record that led to an illegal land transaction. “So the defendants are a secondary party in this case.”

OAG dropped the case, as the primary offenders were not charged.

This was the second assault case that happened in a courtroom. A man stabbed his son-in-law twice inside the courtroom of the Haa dzongkhag court in the presence of the judge and a court official during a hearing on a family land dispute on March 10, 2003.

The two litigants, from Samar Gewog, were in court over a land dispute and were being cross-examined by the court.  During the cross-examination, one of the litigants, the father-in-law, pulled his dozum (dagger). He threatened a bench-clerk who tried to stop him and then stabbed his son-in-law. He followed the younger man who ran towards the drangpon’s seat and stabbed him again.

Weapons are not allowed inside Bhutanese courtrooms.