The Annual Judiciary Report 2023 illuminates the institution’s accomplishments. The report shows 9,837 new legal cases filed last year, plus 1,773 ongoing cases from 2022. Notably, the report highlights that only 11.04 percent of the total cases pending in 2023 are lingering beyond 12 months. Impressively resolving over 85% of these cases and resolving more than 90% of cases within a year indicates that, Bhutan has one of the fastest judicial proceedings in the world. Across the globe, it is common to see that judiciary takes at least a couple of years to decide a case.  Though these figures tout the Judiciary’s admirable efficiency in closing cases, the report lacks information on complex difficulties and chances faced by the institution. It is important for public to carefully inspect the system to identify subtler issues impeding justice, and then thoughtfully address them. The challenges associated with ensuring prompt court proceedings, as reported by Kuensel, underscore the need for a more in-depth analysis of delays and their impact on livelihoods.

While appeal rates from Lower Courts remain largely under 10%, a concerning escalation emerges when tracing the progression of appeals through the judicial hierarchy. Appeals from Drungkhag Courts sit below 5%, rising to over 6% in Dzongkhag Courts. But appeal rates then spike dramatically to nearly 40% from High Court decisions brought before the Supreme Court. This steady increase in appeals at each ascending judicial level signals cause for reflection. Closer inspection of the High Court’s jurisprudence could reveal opportunities to strengthen the robustness of rulings, potentially instilling greater confidence in its judgments and reducing the inclination for appeal. By examining the factors driving escalating appeals to the Supreme Court, the Judiciary may discern means to enhance the High Court’s adjudicative thoroughness and satisfactory delivery of justice. Bolstering decision quality earlier in the process could alleviate pressure on the Supreme Court while fostering greater trust in the High Court.

The report notes that the judiciary was able to issue over 20,000 marriage certificates and document attestation of which more than 50% of document attestation– a commendable public service. However, this laudable effort comes with its challenges, affecting the time for case adjudication as judges and officials become involved in services beyond the judiciary’s mandate. Exploring options for delinking these services except marriage certificates, either by establishing public notary offices or allowing private legal offices to provide them, could alleviate the strain on limited human resources within the judiciary through robust regulation.

A comprehensive evaluation that sheds light on challenges confronted and innovations devised to overcome them would more fully capture the judiciary’s agility and problem-solving acumen. Incorporating the judiciary’s demonstrated willingness to openly acknowledge and strategically remedy impediments faced would affirm the institution’s commitment to continuous improvement and public accountability. Such transparency and maturity would undoubtedly enrich future reports, reinforcing the judiciary’s dedication to progress and justice.

The judiciary should detail impediments faced throughout the year alongside astute remedies devised to conquer them. Such information would exhibit an institution committed to accountability, betterment, and openness – all cornerstones of robust justice. An explicit focus on enhancing access to case law for ongoing education would signal maturity. This nuanced examination of hindrances and strategic solutions for advancement would affirm the judiciary’s alignment with its central mission. By candidly spotlighting its agility in tackling difficulties, the judiciary can showcase its problem-solving faculties while demonstrating devotion to progress.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.