UPDATE: Research Guide to the Legal System of the Kingdom of Bhutan

By Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim and Chhime Tshoke Dorjee

Update by Pema Needup and Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim

Pema Needup is currently working for the Judiciary of the Kingdom of Bhutan as the Presiding Judge at the Royal Court of Justice, District Court, Punakha, Bhutan.

Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, Malaysia and a non-practicing lawyer enrolled with Bangladesh Supreme Court.

Published October 2018

(Previously updated in March 2016)

See the Archive Version!

1. Introduction

The Bhutanese name for the Kingdom of Bhutan is Druk Yul, which means "Land of the Thunder Dragon". Bhutan is a small landlocked, independent, and sovereign nation since time immemorial where Buddhist values guide everyday life of its people. The country is situated between India and China, with a population of approximately 780,000 people. Bhutan, often revered as the "Land of the Peaceful Dragon", is still regarded as one of the last "Shangrilas" in the Himalayan region because of its remoteness, its spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna and its unique ancient Buddhist monasteries. With a total area of 38,394 sq. km, Bhutan lies between 88° 45’ and 92°10’ longitude east and 26°40’ and 28°15’ north. It is a mountainous country except for a small flat strip in the southern foothills. In the north, Bhutan borders with Tibet, the autonomous region under China; in the West with the Indian state of Sikkim; in the East with the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and in the south with the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

To the outside world, Bhutan is popularly known as the country of Gross National Happiness (GNH) because since 1972, Bhutan has adopted GNH as its development philosophy rather than GDP. Bhutan is experiencing a huge political shift, as it evolves from an absolute monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy with an elected Parliament (Article 1(2) of the Constitution). Under a new Constitution of 2008, Bhutan held its first national elections in 2008 and second general elections in 2013. The third general elections are due at the end of 2018. The preservation of culture and protection of environment are at the core of Bhutan’s national policies among other things. Bhutan’s Constitution now demands that a minimum of 60 per cent of the country’s total land area remains under forest cover for all time (Article 5(3) of the Constitution). Currently, 72 per cent of Bhutan is under forest cover, and more than half the country is protected as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries-all connected by a network of biological corridors. Bhutan is the world’s only Carbon-Negative country. The country is now aiming to grow 100 percent organic food by 2020, to produce a zero waste by 2030, to generate zero net greenhouse gas emission and to increase its share of renewable, particularly wind and solar. The territory of Bhutan comprises of twenty Dzongkhags (Districts) with each Dzongkhag consisting of Gewogs (Sub-districts or Counties or Blocks) and Thromdes ( Municipalities) ( Article 1(4), the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008). At present, there is a total of 205 Gewogs and these Gewogs are further divided into Chiwogs (a unit under a Gewog). Thromdes, under the Ministry of Works & Human Settlement, are Municipalities and Four Class ‘A’ Thromde i.e. Thimpu Thromde, Samdrup Jongkhar Thromde, Phuentsholing Thromde and Gelephu Thromde were approved by the Parliament in August 2010.

2. Historical Background

Buddhism as the spiritual heritage has played a key role in shaping the life of people, history, and its culture in Bhutan. Though the recorded history of the country can be traced back to the 7th Century AD, it is with the advent of Guru Rimpoche in the 7th century AD that flourished Buddhism in Bhutan. In 747 AD, Guru Rimpoche (also known as Guru Padma Sambhava or Lotus born) visited the land and Buddhism took firm root in the country. In the first half of the 13th century the spiritual master, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1208-1276) the precursor of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in the country and ultimately gained pre-eminence. However, it is the arrival of Zhabdrung Rimpoche (the precious jewel at whose feet one submits) that one of the most dynamic era in the history of Bhutan started. Bhutan was founded and unified as a country by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the mid-17th century. The religious and secular powers were not clearly delineated until 1616 AD when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the great leader of the Drukpa school of Mahayana Buddhism, established the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) as the head of the spiritual and the Druk Desi, as the head of the temporal. The Zhabdrung constructed numerous Dzongs, monasteries, and religious institutions bringing people from all walks of life under one faith and firmly instituted Drukpa Kagyu as the common religion. The first Dzong that he built, Simtokha Dzong in 1627, stands majestically as one of the sentinels of the Bhutanese identity, a few miles away from present day Thimphu. The Zhabdrung's dual system of government, ruled by 54 Desis (now replaced with monarchs) 50 Je Khenpos (this system still continues), steered Bhutan from 1651 until the birth of the Wangchuck dynasty and establishment of hereditary Monarchy in 1907.

3. National Symbols of Bhutan

The First Schedule to the Constitution provides that the National Emblem of Bhutan is a circle that projects a double diamond thunderbolt placed above the lotus. There is a jewel on all sides with two dragons on vertical sides. The thunderbolts represent the harmony between secular and religious power while the lotus symbolizes purity. The jewel signifies the sovereign power while the dragons (male and female) stands for the name of the country Druk yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

The National Flag is rectangle in shape that is divided into two parts diagonally. The upper yellow half signifies the secular power and authority of the king while the lower saffron-orange symbolizes the practice of religion and power of Buddhism, manifested in the tradition of Drukpa Kagyu. The dragon signifies the name and the purity of the country while the jewels in its claws stand for the wealth and perfection of the country.

The national flower is Blue Poppy (Meconopsis horridula), national tree is cypress (Cupressus torolusa), national bird is the raven, national animal is the Takin (burdorcas taxicolor), and archery is the national sport. Bhutan is a multi-lingual society. Today, over nineteen languages and dialects are spoken all over the country. The state language is Dzongkha, which in the olden times was spoken by people who worked in the Dzongs that was the seat of temporal and spiritual power. Later, Dzongkha was introduced as the national language of Bhutan.

The national anthem was first composed in 1953, became official in 1966 and finally placed in the Second Schedule to the Constitution, 2008. It is known as Druk Tshenden Kepay Gyalkhab Na (the Kingdom of Bhutan adorned with cypress trees). Read the Origin and Description of the National Flag and National Anthem of the Kingdom of Bhutan The Centre for Bhutan Studies.

The Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum (Nu.) and is officially pegged to the Indian Rupee at parity. Bhutan introduced first banknotes in 1974 and first postage stamps in 1962. Bhutan proudly celebrates December 17 as the National Day. The ‘Gho’ and ‘Kira’ are the traditional and national dress for men and women. The gho, a knee-length robe is worn by men and kira, an ankle-length dress is worn by women.

4. Political System of Bhutan

The historical systematic scheme of governance in the country incepted in 1616 AD with the arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal from Tibet. He introduced the dual system of governance with the Je Khenpo as the religious head and the Desi, as the head of the temporal aspects.

The modern political history of Bhutan started from 1907 when the Bhutanese people unanimously enthroned Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan and later on by the successive monarchs of the Wangchuck dynasty. In 1953, the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the National Assembly (Tshogdu) in order to ensure a more democratic governance of the country. Every Gewog, a group of villages and an intermediate geographic administrative unit between dzongkhag and village, had an elected member representing the National Assembly to enact laws and to discuss issues of national importance. In the year 1963, the Royal Advisory Council (Lodoe Tshogde) was established as a link between the King, Council of Ministers and the people. The process of decentralization was extended by the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1981 through the establishment of the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (District Development Assembly) and in 1991 through Gewog Yargay Tshogchung (County Development Assembly).

Finally, in 1998, the King handed over the power to rule the county to the cabinet ministers and he started to serve as the Head of the State while the government was managed by the Prime Minister. The process of drafting the Constitution of Bhutan was started because of a Royal command towards the enactment of a formal Constitution from 2001 through a 39-member Constitution Drafting Committee comprising elected members of the people, monastic body, the judiciary and the executive arms of the government, headed by the Chief Justice of Bhutan, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye. Finally, the Constitution of Bhutan was signed in a historic and sacred ceremony on 18th July, 2008. Read a Guide to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan from the Judiciary’s website.

In 2008, Bhutan witnessed a major shift in its political system with the first elections launched countrywide with a 79 percent voter turnout. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DTP) won a landslide victory to form Bhutan's first democratic government. Lyonchen Jigme Y Thinley formed the government with 45 elected members and just two opposition members from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). After the expiry of the tenure of the first Prime Minister, PDP grabbed 32 out of 47 seats, won the second-ever election in the country and Tshering Tobgay became the Prime Minister on 30th July 2013.

Under the 2008 Constitution, Bhutan is a Sovereign Kingdom and a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy (Article 2). The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation. (Article 1). Article 7 of the Bhutanese Constitution provides for fundamental rights and includes most of the internationally recognized human rights e.g. civil and political rights and also provides that these rights as enshrined in article 7 are judicially enforceable.

The organs of the Bhutanese government comprise of the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive and Article 1(13) of the Constitution ensures separation of these three organs.

5. Legislature in Bhutan

Article 10 of the Bhutanese Constitution, 2008 provides for a bi-cameral Parliament which consists of Druk Gyalpo (the King of Bhutan), the National Council (Upper House), and the National Assembly (Lower House), having all legislative powers. It is the responsibility of the Parliament to ensure that the Government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfils the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, Bills and other legislations, and scrutiny of State functions. The members of Parliament shall be elected according to the Electoral Laws of the Kingdom. Article 11 deals with National Council whereas Article 12 deals with the National Assembly. The tenure of both these houses is five years.

The National Council, which is required to convene at least twice in a year, consists of twenty-five non-political members, one member elected by the voters in each of the twenty Dzongkhags (districts); and five eminent persons nominated by the Druk Gyalpo (the King). Besides the legislative functions, the National Council shall act as the House of review on matters affecting the security and sovereignty of the country and the interests of the nation and the people that need to be brought to the notice of the Druk Gyalpo, the Prime Minister and the National Assembly.

See the latest Rules of Procedure of the National Council of Bhutan 2014. This document contains provisions on functioning of the Upper House.

The National Assembly of Bhutan shall have a maximum of fifty-five members, elected from each Dzongkhag in proportion to its population, provided that no Dzongkhag shall have less than two members or more than seven members, for which purpose Parliament shall, by law, provide for each Dzongkhag to be divided into constituencies through appropriate delimitation, and for the voters in each constituency directly electing one member to the National Assembly [Article 12(1)]. The Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly of Bhutan 2014 can be found online. This document contains provisions on functioning of the Lower House.

The Legislative Rules of Procedure 2011 (Amended) can be found here. This document contains provisions on a Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament to pass Bills on which the two Houses have disagreements.

6. Executive in Bhutan

The government of Kingdom of Bhutan is of parliamentary form. The head of the State is the Druk Gyalpo (the King), whereas the head of the Government is the Prime Minister. Until the 1950s, Bhutan was an absolute monarchy whose sovereign was styled the Druk Gyalpo (“dragon king”).

Article 20 of the Constitution provides that the executive power in Bhutan be vested in the Lhengye Zhungtshog (Council of Ministers or Cabinet) which shall consist of the Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The number of Ministers shall be determined by the number of Ministries required to provide efficient and good governance. The creation of an additional ministry or reduction of any ministry shall be approved by Parliament. The Lhengye Zhungtshog (Council of Ministers) shall aid and advise the Druk Gyalpo (the King) in the exercise of His functions including international affairs, provided that the Druk Gyalpo may require the Lhengye Zhungtshog to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise. The Prime Minister shall keep the Druk Gyalpo informed from time to time about the affairs of the State, including international affairs, and shall submit such information and files as called for by the Druk Gyalpo.

The Lhengye Zhungtshog assesses the state of affairs arising from developments in the State and society and from events at home and abroad; defines the goals of State action and determines the resources required to achieve them; plan and co-ordinate government policies and ensure their implementation; and represent the Kingdom at home and abroad. It also promotes an efficient civil administration based on the democratic values and principles enshrined in this Constitution and is collectively responsible to the Druk Gyalpo and to Parliament.

The Executive Orders of the Cabinet can be found on the Cabinet’s website.

7. Bhutanese Legal System

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal promulgated the first set of Bhutanese laws, the codification of which was completed in 1652 during the reign of the first temporal ruler, Deb Umzed Tenzin Drugyel. The Code, which serves as the foundation of the contemporary Bhutanese legal system, was based closely on Buddhist principles and addressed the violation of both temporal and spiritual laws. These laws contain specific reference to the ten pious acts, known as Lhachoe Gyewa Chu and the sixteen virtuous acts of social piety, referred to as the Michoe Tsangma Chudrug.

The Bhutanese legal system was thus based on the religious and temporal laws. The spiritual laws are said to resemble a silken knot (dargye duephue) as the silken knot is light and loose at first but gradually tightens with the accumulation of negative deeds, whereas the secular laws are compared to a golden yoke (sergyi nyashing) that places the weight equally, signifying equality under the law and penalty grows heavier and heavier with the degree of the crimes committed. It is, therefore, evident that Buddhism has played a predominant role in shaping the legal principles and practices and also the development of the institution of the Judiciary.

In 1959, the National Assembly, under the guidance of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck enacted the first comprehensive codified law code, the Thrimzhung Chhenmo or the Supreme Law, which covers almost all civil and criminal matters and includes sections on land law, marriage, inheritance, weights and measures, theft and murder. Although many of the chapters have been amended by subsequent legislation, the Thrimzhung Chhenmo is considered to be the basis for all the subsequent laws enacted in Bhutan. Besides, the Third King promulgated Kadyon (Royal Edicts) ‘Ka’, ‘Kha’, ‘Ga’ in 1968. These Royal Edicts contained mostly procedures.

The legal system of Bhutan is based on the adversarial (accusatorial or the common law system) principle of procedure with some elements of the inquisitorial (continental or the civil law system.) The Bhutanese Judiciary is entrusted to safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favor, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice. Read an introduction to Bhutanese Legal System.

7.1. Laws of Bhutan

The law is important for a society for it serves as norm of conduct of citizens. But too many laws are not a healthy sign. Too many laws breed disobedience. Since 1959 until today, the erstwhile National Assembly of Bhutan and the Parliament of Bhutan has enacted over one hundred Acts some of which were repealed and amended over the years. The Bhutanese laws are available at the below links:

8. The Judiciary

The Judiciary is an integral part of any given polity. Bhutan has a single unified judicial system with the Supreme Court standing at the apex. The judicial authority of Bhutan is vested in the Royal Courts of Justice comprising of the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Dzongkhag Court, the Dungkhag Court and such other Courts and Tribunals as may be established from time to time by the Druk Gyalpo on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission (Article 21, the Constitution of Bhutan, 2008).

The mission of the Royal Courts of Justice is to “Safeguard, uphold, and administer justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to justice.”

8.1. The Structure of the Courts

At present, the Bhutanese legal system has a four-tier Court system. The Supreme Court is the highest in the hierarchy, followed by the High Court, Dzongkhag and Drungkhag Courts. There are no courts or tribunals of special jurisdiction in Bhutan. The Courts have both appellate and original jurisdiction, besides being the Courts of general jurisdiction, dealing with both civil and criminal matters.

The Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is the highest court of law in Bhutan and is presided over by the Chief Justice of Bhutan. It was established through the Royal Decree on November 19, 2009. It has appellate, advisory and extra-territorial jurisdiction. Where a particular case is not covered or is only partially covered by any law in force and is not otherwise excluded from adjudication, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over it. The territorial jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extends to the whole of Bhutan, all persons therein, and all persons with an established legal relationship to Bhutan. The Supreme Court is a court of record and is the guardian of the Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation. (Article 1, the Constitution of Bhutan, 2008).

The Chief Justice is appointed from among the Drangpons (Justices) of the Supreme Court or from among eminent jurists by the Druk Gyalpo (the King) in consultation with the National Judicial Commission (NJC). Similarly, the associate Justices are appointed from among the Drangpons (Justices) of the High Court or from among eminent jurists by the Druk Gyalpo (the King) in consultation with the National Judicial Commission.

The term of office of the Chief Justice of Bhutan is five years or until attaining the age of sixty-five years, whichever comes first. The associate Justices will serve for ten years or until attaining the age of sixty-five years, whichever comes first.

The High Court: The High Court, established in 1967, is made up of three Benches. A minimum of two judges comprises a Bench. Like the Supreme Court, the High Court exercises original, appellate and extra-territorial jurisdiction. It also possesses inherent powers and exercises extra-territorial jurisdiction on the basis of international law principles. It was the highest Court until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009.

The High Court has also constituted a larger Bench which is presided over by the Chief Justice and the appeal from the Bench shall lie to the larger Bench. The Green Bench was established at the High Court on 2d June 2015 primarily to hear and resolve disputes on environmental cases by allowing the citizens to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Green Bench at the High Court is being presided over by the Chief Justice with four other sitting Justices of the High Court. The Bench has both the original and appellate jurisdictions but do not take away the jurisdiction of the Dzongkhag Courts. The Green Bench will have the same powers of the High Court.

The High Court comprises of a Chief Justice and eight Drangpons. It is also the Court of first instance for constitutional cases. The judgment of the first constitutional case between the Opposition Party and the Ruling Government can be found online

The Chief Justice is appointed from among the Drangpons of the High Court or from among eminent jurists and the Drangpons are appointed from among the Drangpons of the Dzongkhag Courts or from among eminent jurists by the Druk Gyalpo upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission. The Chief Justice and the associate Justices will serve for ten years or until attaining the age of sixty years, whichever comes first.

The Dzongkhag Court: At present, Bhutan is geographically divided into twenty Districts. Each District has a District Court. The first Dzongkhag Court was established in 1960/61. Usually, the Dzongkhag Court is made up of a single Bench, though there are some Dzongkhag Courts that have division Benches. For example, Paro, Wangdue Phodrang, and Phuentsholing Courts have two Benches while the Thimphu District Court has five division Benches. The Judiciary established special benches at the Thimphu District Court on 21st December 2016. The reform is initiated to facilitate expeditious, fair, and just adjudication of criminal, commercial, civil, family and child related disputes through a specialized bench. The Thimphu District Court now comprises two Criminal Benches, a Civil Bench, a Commercial Bench, and a Family and Child Bench.

The Dzongkhag Court exercises original jurisdiction in all cases within its territorial jurisdiction. Appeals from an order or Judgment of a Drungkhag court are made to the Dzongkhag The District Court is presided over by a Dzongkhag Drangpon who is assisted by one or more Drangpon Rabjams or Registrars. The Dzongkhag Drangpons are appointed by the Druk Gyalpo upon the recommendation of the Royal Judicial Service Council.

The Drungkhag Court: The Drungkhag or Sub-District Court, established in 1978, is the lowest formal court in Bhutan. There are fifteen Courts in the country having original jurisdiction in all cases within their territorial jurisdiction. It is a Court of first instance without any appellate jurisdiction. Like a Dzongkhag Court, a Drungkhag Court may have one or more Drangpons depending on number of benches. It is presided over by a Drungkhag Drangpon. The Chief Justice of Bhutan appoints legally qualified, experienced and competent persons of high integrity as Drungkhag Drangpons upon the recommendation of the Royal Judicial Service Council. The Judges of the subordinate courts normally serve up to the age of sixty years. And tenure for the Assistant Judges and the bench clerks is fifty-eight years. The Judges supported by other administrative staff carries out the administration of the Court in the Drungkhags and the Dzongkhags.

8.2. Research and Training Bureau of the Judiciary

There is a Research and Training Bureau of the Judiciary which was established in 1994 under the Royal Command to conduct researches on the sources of Bhutanese laws, court etiquette and manners, formal address and titles, legal terminology, in-service legal education, including sessions on procedural code, information technology, and Bhutanese literature so that the judicial staff can develop their skills and knowledge in legal profession.

8.3. The Registrar General

The Registrar General, appointed by the Chief Justice of Bhutan for a period of three years, heads the administrative and finance division of the Courts. He is supported by other administrative staff, and is responsible for the overall administrative work in the Supreme Court and the subordinate Courts. His responsibility includes the appointment, transfer, supervision and Human Resource Development of Court staffs.

8.4. Trial System of Court

The Bhutanese legal system is primarily based on the adversarial system of procedure with some elements of the inquisitorial system. The courts take no sides and the judges are umpires of the litigants. The judges allow uninterrupted hearing to the litigants or their jabmis (counsel). They are given opportunity to make presentation to the Court and answer questions posed by the judges. The plaintiff and the defendant or their jabmis can submit evidence to substantiate their legal contentions and the Courts decide cases based on the facts and issues submitted by the parties.

Thus, the burden to proof beyond reasonable doubt lies on the prosecutor in a criminal case and on the plaintiff to prove his case by a Fair Preponderance of the Credible Evidence in a civil action. Read details about the Trial System of Courts in Bhutan and the Hearing Procedure online.

8.5. Court Fees

Presently, each party in the Civil case has to pay only 100 Ngultrum (which is less than $1] as Court Fees in the High Court, while the Court Fees in Dzongkhag and Drungkhag Courts are only 50 Ngultrum each

Under the Bhutanese legal system, the Court has to establish a hearing calendar (section 79 of the Civil and Criminal Procedural Code). Usually in a day, a maximum of five hearing is to be scheduled. This is done so that the Drangpon and the Bench Clerks are not overburdened with too many cases and that there is proper time management. Individual calendars explicitly link the management of a case to a particular judge, making judges accountable to the public.

8.6. Judicial Process

The Judicial Process in Bhutan follows the following stages: Registry of a complaint à Miscellaneous Hearing à Preliminary Hearing à Production before Judge à Show Cause à Opening Statement à Defence Reply à Rebuttal à Evidence à Independent testimony à Exhibit à Cross Examinations à Judicial Investigation à Closing Statement à Judgment

8.7. Court Orders

The Court issues a number of orders in the form of direction, writs, injunction, and compliance as per the provisions of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan. The Court also issues summon order to the litigants to appear before the Court on the specific date. Failing to honor the summon order may entail the dismissal of a case, passing of a default judgment or be liable for contempt.

8.8. National Judicial Commission and Royal Judicial Service Council

The National Judicial Commission of Bhutan, established under a Royal Decree in 2003, is responsible for the appointments and removal of the Drangpons of the Courts in Bhutan. The members of the National Judicial Commission are the Chief Justice of Bhutan as the Chairperson, the senior most Drangpon of the Supreme Court, the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee and the Attorney General.

The Druk Gyalpo appoints the members of the Commission by warrant under His Hand and seal.

Under Article 21 of the Constitution of Bhutan, 2008 and the Judicial Service Act, 2007, the Commission submits recommendation to His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo with regard to the appointment of the Chief Justice of Bhutan and the Drangpons of the Supreme Court; and the Chief Justice and the Drangpons of the High Court, to the establishment of Courts and Tribunals, etc. A Drangpon may be censured or suspended by a command of the Druk Gyalpo on the recommendation of the Commission for proven misbehavior, who, in the opinion of the Commission, does not deserve impeachment.

The Judicial Service Act of 2007 also provides for a Royal Judicial Service Council, which with the assent of the Chief Justice of Bhutan shall have the full authority to determine and administer the organizational structure, budgetary and personnel requirements of the Judiciary.

Read the Judicial Service Act of Bhutan, 2007.

8.9. Public Notary Office

The Public Notary Office was established on 15th August 2007 in the Thimphu District Court as a pilot project to facilitate the efficient delivery of judicial related notary services to the public. The office is headed by a Drangpon Rabjam (Assistant Judge).

One of the significant reforms undertaken by the Judiciary in 2017 is the use of ICT to provide public notary services online with support from the G2C office. With this initiative, citizens can now apply online to seek notary services from any courts in the country. The online notary eServices include procuring marriage certificate, translation of marriage certificate, marital status, name change, lost documents, attestation of documents, child adoption, closing of accounts and transfer of shares, organ transplant, attestation of agreements (wills, contracts, and testaments) and child travel documents. As of now there are 120 online services offered by the G2C (Government to Citizen) office including the eleven judicial services. The services are available from the Citizen Portal or the portal of the Judiciary.

8.10. Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI)

The Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI) is a judicial training institute established under the Judicial Service Act of Bhutan, 2007. It started functioning with effect from 25 February 2011. The institute is devoted to providing continuing judicial and legal education through training, professional development, research, publication and dissemination.

8.11. Case Management System (CMS)

The Supreme Court has launched the Case Management System (CMS) in 2016. The Case Information System (CIS), which was then an offline system, was upgraded to an online CMS. The CMS is a web-based monitoring system that enables the court to track the status of cases as well as the stage of the proceedings. It replaces the cumbersome and outdated system of having to maintain registers and files on cases by providing an on-line platform to gather and monitor information on cases. This automation reduces case processing delays, increases the transparency of office operations, and reduces the potential for oversight and corruption. The CMS is also in accord with the e-governance initiative envisaged by the government.

The objectives of CMS are to:

The system generates statistics for periodic reports for the purpose of constant monitoring and evaluation. All the Courts use the system to record the cases and track their proceedings.

9. Office of the Attorney General

Article 29 of the Constitution ofBhutan, 2008 deals with the autonomous office of Attorney General, who, as the chief legal officer of the Kingdom, shall be the legal advisor to and legal representative of the Government. The Office of the Attorney General Act of Bhutan, 2006 was enacted to promote and impart justice through fair, impartial and just proceedings in civil and criminal cases, by enacting enlightened laws and to uphold the rule of law, natural justice and the Constitution through responsive and accessible legal process. Read the Office of the Attorney General Act of Bhutan, 2006.

His Majesty the King appoints an eminent jurist as the Attorney General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Chapter 3 of the Office of the Attorney General Act, 2006 (Sections 11-18) deals with the functions and section 24 deals with the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General. Chapter 5 provides for Code of Conduct of Office of Attorney General.

Section 50 of the 2006 Act provides that on grounds of physical, mental, or other incapacity of a permanent nature, or any violation of this Act; or Conviction under any other law the Prime Minister of Bhutan may remove the Attorney General.

10. Legal Profession

The law relating to legal profession in Bhutan is governed by the Jabmi Act, 2003, and the Jabmi (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2016. This Act according to the Former Chief Justice of Bhutan, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, “will reaffirm and uphold the cardinal principle of fair trial with the help of Jabmi (legal counsel) to protect and establish people’s rights at all stages of proceedings”. The Act, a guideline for professional ethics, duties, and responsibilities of jabmis, is expected to bring in professionalism to the legal system and “enhance the effectiveness and fairness in the administration of justice”. Section 3 and Section 16 of the Jabmi (Amendment) Act of 2016, provide for the establishment of a Bar Council (Jabmi Tshogdey) and a Bar Association (Jabmi Thuentshog). The bar council, according to the Jabmi Act, will have the Attorney General as the ex-officio member, two retired drangpons (Judges) of the Supreme Court/High Court, President of bar association as the vice -chairperson, chairpersons of each disciplinary committee and three elected members among the lawyers. The bar council will assist the Court, promote and support law reforms, and conduct lawyer selection examinations. The bar association will have an elected president, enrolled members, and an executive body elected by the members. The functions of the association include assisting the court in expediting the cases and ensuring just, fair, and prompt dispensation of justice, and upholding the integrity of the lawyers.

The Act also states that no person would be qualified to practice as a jabmi unless he or she is enrolled with the Jabmi Tshogdey and retired Drangpons would be allowed to practice as a Jabmi before the higher Court from the Court where he or she presided. The Act also states that an eligible jabmi, among other criteria, must be a Bhutanese, should have legal qualification recognized by the Jabmi Tshogdey, should have undergone the national legal course, and should have passed the Bar selection examinations.

The concept of jabmi featured in various sections of the Bhutanese law. Someone embroiled in a legal dispute has always sought the aid of the jabmi. The Bhutanese legal system provided litigants the option either to represent themselves or to seek legal counsel. It also has an additional clause permitting a member of the family to represent the case on the litigant’s behalf. Therefore, the legal counsel was not an alien practice. It was ingrained in the system.

Every district or village had jabmis. According to sources, the presence of the jabmi has been recorded as far back as 1616, when the Zhabdrung came to Bhutan. They were mostly village elders and retired government functionaries respected in their communities for their wisdom, experience and articulate speech. Their clients paid them in manual labor, agricultural produce or, in some cases, a small piece of a property that was in dispute.

Although they had always been consulted by generations of Bhutanese litigants, they were never a professional class of people with the requisite credentials common to lawyers and legal counsel elsewhere in the world. From 1996 the jabmi was licensed and the profession formalized by the government.

11. Bhutan and International Law

12. Government Ministries

13. Research Resources and Links

13.1. Constitutional and Other Relevant Bodies

13.2. Higher Education Institutes in Bhutan

13.3. Periodicals



13.4. Development Agencies in Bhutan

13.5. United Nations and Bhutan

13.6. Selected Authoritative Readings


Book Chapter