…Seven vacant posts for justices at Supreme Court and High Court

Ugyen Penjor

With three justices of the High Court completing their term today, the judiciary will be short of seven justices at the Supreme Court and High Court.

Judiciary of the country comprises of the Supreme Court, High Court, dzongkhag and dungkhag courts.

The Acting Chief Justice of the High Court, Sangay Khandu and justices Lungten   Dubgyur and Tshering Namgay will demit their office today after completing 10 years in office. According to the Constitution, the term of office of the Chief Justice and the drangpons of the High Court is 10 years or until attaining the age of 60 years, whichever is earlier.

The three justices are the first batch of professionals who were elevated to the High Court as constitutional post holders and completing their tenure.

The High Court, the court of appeal from the dzongkhag courts should comprise of a Chief Justice and eight drangpons, according to the Constitution. With three justices completing their term today, the High Court will have only four justices without a Chief Justice. There are only seven justices.

The immediate impact, those aware of Judiciary functioning, say would be on the Larger Bench of the High Court. The Larger Bench presided by the Chief Justice or the Acting Chief Justice is an appeal bench within the High Court. All matters decided in the High Court benches, except constitutional cases, has to be appealed to the Larger Bench before appealing to the Supreme Court.

With only four justices, the Larger Bench will not be able to convene, as justices who presided over the appeal case is not allowed to sit on the Larger Bench to avoid conflict of interest. There are about 300 pending cases in the Larger Bench.

In the judiciary’s 2019 annual report, 295 cases were appealed to the Larger Bench from the three benches in the High Court. From the Larger Bench, 68 appealed to the Supreme Court.

The judiciary’s bench book states that the Chief Justice of the High Court could constitute number of benches or order hearing by a Larger Bench. On constitutional cases, the Larger Bench should have three or five justices.

Meanwhile, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a senior justice having completed their term earlier this year, the highest appellate court is also short of two justices.

Altogether, there are seven vacant posts at the highest level in the Judiciary of Bhutan.