The legal system in Bhutan is influenced by English common law and Indian law and rooted in civil law based on Buddhist religious law, which in turn is grounded in a17th century Buddhist morale code called “driglam namzha”. Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and workers' rights have traditionally been restricted by the government, especially when it was an absolute monarchy, and judicial processes are based on tradition rather than written criminal or civil procedure codes. Minor offenses are judged by village headmen. Criminal defendants have do not have the right to a jury trial or a court-appointed lawyer. Under the 1979 Police Act, police need a warrant to arrest a person and must bring the detainees before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Bhutan had the death penalty but it was abolished in 2004. Bhutan does not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Local headmen and magistrates (Thrimpon) hear cases in the first instance. Appeals may be made to an eight-member High Court, established in 1968. From the High Court, a final appeal may be made to the king. Criminal matters and most civil matters are resolved by application of the 17th century legal code as revised in 1965. Questions of family law are governed by traditional Buddhist or Hindu law. Minor offenses are adjudicated by village headmen. Criminal defendants have no right to court appointment of an attorney and no right to a jury trial. Under the 1979 Police Act, police need a warrant to arrest a person and must bring the detainees before a court within twenty-four hours of arrest. In the past, Bhutan was virtually crime-free. However, with modernization and development, crimes such as burglary, theft and robbing of the "chortens" (religious stupas) are becoming common. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

In 1988, the Bhutanese government made a decision to take active measures to protect the unique and precious heritage of Bhutan, the last remaining stronghold of Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism. Accordingly, many temples and monasteries were closed to outsiders and wilderness areas with rare flora and fauna were turned into wildlife sanctuaries. The 2008 constitution mandates that 60 percent of Bhutan’s land area must be forest. Plastic bags have been banned since 1999. [Source: BBC, 2016;Barry Petersen and T. Sean Herbert, CBS News April 17, 2016; John Scofield, National Geographic, November 1976]

In the early 1990s the Bhutanese National Assembly passed a law that called for the restoration of driglam namzha that required among other things that citizens wear traditional clothes such as the kimono-like gho. It also stated that buildings had to be built to conform to traditional architecture and television and satellite dishes were outlawed. Bhutanese citizens who failed to followed these rules faced fines and jail terms. In 1999, television was allowed.

To promote national unity, Dzongkha was made the national language and he language taught in school. The teaching of minority languages was discouraged. These laws as well as driglam namzha restrictions enraged people of Nepalese descent living in Bhutan. There were also laws that discourages Bhutanese from marrying non-Bhutanese and limited the number of journalist, tourist and other foreigners allowed to enter the country. Some of these restrictions have been eased after Bhutan became a democracy in 2008.

Judiciary Branch of the Bhutanese Government

The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, which are referred to as the Royal Court of Justice. The National Judicial Commission, with the approval of the monarch, appoints justices for national and regional courts. Commission members are appointed by the legislature with approval of prime minister and the executive branch. [Source: “Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments”, Thomson Gale, 2008]

The highest court in Bhutan is the Supreme Court. It consists of the chief justice and four associate justices) and has sole jurisdiction in constitutional matters. The Supreme Court chief justice is appointed by the monarch upon the advice of the National Judicial Commission, a four-member body to include the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly, the attorney general, the Chief Justice of Bhutan and the senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Other judges (drangpons) appointed by the monarch from among the High Court judges selected by the National Judicial Commission; chief justice serves a 5-year term or until reaching age 65 years, whichever is earlier; the 4 other judges serve 10-year terms or until age 65, whichever is earlier [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

In the 1990s, when Bhutan was an absolute monarchy, the highest-level court was the Supreme Court of Appeal — the Druk Gyalpo himself. The Supreme Court of Appeal heard appeals of decisions emanating from the High Court (Thrimkhang Gongma). In 1989 the High Court, which was established in 1968 to review lowercourt appeals, had six justices (including a chief justice), two of whom were elected by the National Assembly and four of whom were appointed by the Druk Gyalpo, for five-year terms. Each district had a magistrate's court (Dzongkhag Thrimkhang), headed by a magistrate or thrimpon, from which appeals can be made to the High Court. Minor civil disputes were adjudicated by a village head. All citizens have been granted the right to make informal petitions to the Druk Gyalpo, some of which have been made reportedly by citizens who flagged down the Druk Gyalpo's automobile as he toured the nation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991]

The subordinate courts are the High Court (first appellate court); District or Dzongkhag Courts; and sub-district or Dungkhag Courts. Local headmen and magistrates (thrimpon) hear cases at the sub-distrct level. Appeals may be made to a six-member High Court. After that a final appeal can be made to the Supreme Court or the king.

Driglam Namzha

The Bhutanese code of etiquette is known as driglam namzha. Passang Lhamo wrote in the Daily Bhutan: “ Driglam means the way of maintaining order, while namzha refers to a concept or system. Therefore, driglam namzha is a system of orderly and cultured behavior, and by extension, the standards and rules that constitute it. It also regulates a number of cultural assets such as art, the way we speak and also our internal mind too. Driglam can be categorised into three disciplines: Physical, verbal, and mental/ inner mind. [Source: Passang Lhamo, Daily Bhutan, April 2, 2019]

“The physical discipline includes the way people behave and wear clothes. The way the Bhutanese eat, behave and walk is also part of this discipline, known as zhacha dro sum. External behaviors should reflect wholesome values such as humility, self-control, calm and compassion while also displaying sensitivity and respect towards others.

“Driglam namzha” serves “as a courteous mode of individual development. With more exposure to the outside world, Bhutanese people take pride in driglam namzha as a unique identity of Bhutan and promote it not only as a righteous code of conduct, but also as a marker of Bhutanese identity. Driglam namzha was discussed many times in the Parliament and resolutions were passed on its preservation and promotion, mainly to counteract the invasion of Western culture. In a nutshell, driglam namzha deals with eschewing crude and bad physical, verbal and mental behaviours and adopting civil and courteous conducts of the body, speech, and mind.

“The elders and the leaders of the nation must follow the code of etiquette because they set the example for the rest of the people to follow. It is a courteous mode of individual development, as well as a civilised mechanism for the harmonious functioning of a society. Its intrinsic value lies in it being an expression of civility, tact, propriety, decorum, and elegance, and it is by seeing this value that driglam namzha can be sustained and celebrated as a unique Bhutanese heritage.

History of Driglam Namzha

Some have called “driglam namba” an ancient code. Whether that is true and what defines “ancient” is a matter of debate. King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (reigned 1972- 2006) took many measures to preserve Bhutan’s traditional culture. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he issued a series of edicts designed to “preserve native culture” and made “driglam namba” part of the school curriculum. The Bhutanese National Assembly passed a law that called for the restoration of driglam namzha and stated that buildings had to be built to conform to traditional architecture and satellite dishes were not allowed.

Under the 1989 promulgation of Driglam Nam Zha (Etiquette and Manners) people were required to wear traditional Bhutanese clothes such as the gho in public. Western clothes were banned. Those who didn’t wear traditional clothes had to pay stiff fines and faced jail terms. Some of these laws are still place today to some degree. The edicts designed to “preserve native culture” focused on Buddhism and Bhutanese culture.

This "Bhutanisation drive" alienated the country’s largely Hindu Nepali population. Nepalese within Bhutan formed political groups and tried pressure the government to make social reforms. The government responded with force, and violence broke out. Large numbers of people of Nepali origin were expelled from Bhutan. The majority of them, estimated to be between 100,000 and 135,000 in number, ended up in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. [Sources: “Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments” Thomson Gale, 2008; “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Customs and Behavior Based on Driglam Namzha

Passang Lhamo wrote in the Daily Bhutan: “ According to driglam namzha, we need to have a good mindset, a mind who thinks good about the welfare of all sentient beings. The inner mind, driglam, means the way Bhutanese people think: their love for the country, King and people, and the respect for the nation’s rules and regulations. Respect for our national dress is paramount, because it is a unique identity of our country and the same should be applied to the national language Dzongkha. There must also be the willingness to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum (King, country, and people) as much as we can and to have the determination to make everyone happy. Having a good mindset helps to maintain good relationships with everyone, as well as being loyal to friends, spouses, parents and oneself. [Source: Passang Lhamo, Daily Bhutan, April 2, 2019]

1) Way of walking: “Walking without conscious, running while walking, making a loud noise with our footsteps, taking big footsteps, holding your hand on your hips and dashing with others, holding hand with friends and walking, and keeping your hand at your back while walking are all considered as ill-mannered. One should walk without making noises, and while walking with high officials, we should walk on the left behind them. While walking with high officials, we should walk on their left and behind them. :

2) Way of sitting: “While sitting in front of superiors, we should maintain our posture. We should not cross our legs or lean against the wall. This kind of behaviour is considered as ill mannered. If we are sitting on the ground, we should sit with our legs crossed on the floor with our hands folded in front. Kneeling down is also considered bad behaviour. We should not cross our legs in front of superiors.

3) Way of looking: “We should look at people with love and care. We look at people with different kinds of expressions. For example, looking with care, compassion and love, or looking with an angry face. When we are meeting people for the first time, we should not look at them with anger. Instead, we should look at them with love and care. We should not stare directly into the eyes of the high officials, and we should be lowering our gaze, towards their feet.

4) Verbal discipline - how we talk: “According to conduct defined by driglam namzha, we should maintain decorum while talking, and talk according to time and space with a conscious mind and introspection. We are also required to talk clearly so that others can understand what we mean. A) The way we talk with elders: We should talk with respect to lama's, high officials, parents, and elders. B) The way we talk with people of the same age: We need to talk with our friends or people of the same age as us with love and affection. C) The way we talk with the younger ones: We need to talk to younger ones with compassion, cherish them and guide them by giving good advice. D) Telling lies, harsh words, spreading rumours, scandalising, backbiting, accusation and defaming, and murmuring are considered a bad way of talking and have to be avoided at all times. We need to welcome a guest, whether it is a high official or a common man, with a smile and treat them with respect.

Buddhist-Based Laws in Bhutan

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal promulgated the first set of Bhutanese laws and codification of these laws was completed in 1652 during the reign of the first temporal ruler, Deb Umzed Tenzin Drugyel. The Code 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. [Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

The ten pious acts of virtues, Lhachoe Gyewa Chu, are:
Refraining from taking life - pranatighatad virati.
Refraining from taking that which is not given - adattadanad virati.
Refraining from engaging in sexual misconduct - kamamithyacarad virati./li>Refraining from lying - mrsavadat prativirati.
Refraining from speaking harshly - parusat prativirati.
Refraining from slandering - paishunayatc prativirati.
Refraining from engaging in worthless chatter - sambhinnapralapat prativirati.
Refraining from being covetous - abhidhyayah prativirati.
Refraining from being malicious - vyapadat prativirati.
Refraining from holding wrong views - mithyadrsti prativirati.|=|

These ten pious acts can broadly be divided into three categories of non-virtuous actions to be avoided and they are:
The three non-virtuous actions of body - truni kayaduscaritani.
The four non-virtuous actions of speech - catva vagduscaritani.
The three non-virtuous actions of mind - trini manoduscaritani.
By refraining from these negative actions, we behave in consonance with one of Buddha's approaches by which all sentient being can develop the means to attain enlightenment.|=|

The sixteen virtuous acts of social piety, Michoe Tsangma Chudrug are:
Do not kill or steal;
Do not hold wrong views;
Do not go against the wishes of one's parents;/li>
Do not be disrespectful to elders, learned persons and leaders;
Do not harbour evil or ill thoughts towards family or friends;
Do not refrain from helping neighbours;
Do not be dishonest;
Do not follow bad examples;
Do not be greedy or selfish;
Do not inspire evil thoughts in others;/li>
Do not be late in repaying debts;
Do not cheat;
Do not act differently towards the rich and the poor, or those of high or low status;.
Do not listen to evil advice;
Do not be deceitful; and
Do not be short-tempered or lose one's patience.|=|

In the Bhutanese legal system, the spiritual laws are said to resemble a silken knot (dargye duephue). The silken knot is light and loose at first but gradually tightens with the accumulation of negative deeds. Similarly, secular laws are compared to a golden yoke (sergyi nyashing) that grows heavier and heavier with the degree of the crimes committed.|=|

The Zhabdrung's Code serves as the foundation of the contemporary Bhutanese legal system. Although the Code was amended several times over the centuries, it continues to uphold the principles of Buddhism and natural justice set out by Zhabdrung. As the Bhutanese legal system has evolved over time, it has continued to reflect the culture and lifestyle of the Bhutanese people, whilst ensuring that the stream of justice remains clear and pure.|=|

Criminal Justice and Legal Principles in Bhutan

Bhutan's civil and criminal codes are based on the Tsa Yig, a code established by the shabdrung in the seventeenth century. The Tsa Yig was revised in 1957 and ostensibly replaced with a new code in 1965. The 1965 code, however, retained most of the spirit and substance of the seventeenth-century code. Family problems, such as marriage, divorce, and adoption, usually were resolved through recourse to Buddhist or Hindu religious law. In modern Bhutan, village heads often judged minor cases and district officials adjudicated major crimes. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Trials in the 1980s were public, and it was the practice of the accuser and the accused each to put their cases in person to judges. There were no lawyers in Bhutan's legal system until the 1980s, and decisions were made on the facts of each case as presented by the litigants. Judges appointed by the Druk Gyalpo were responsible for investigations, filing of charges, prosecution, and judgment of defendants. Serious crimes were extremely rare throughout the twentieth century, although there were reports of increased criminal activity in the 1980s and early 1990s with the influx of foreign laborers, widening economic disparities, and greater contact with foreign cultures.*

Pelgoen Phagpa Lhuedrup, a famous Buddhist philosopher, wrote, "As the earth is to living and non-living entities, law is to human beings." Laws can be classified into two categories: 1) Rangzhin gi thrim - Natural Laws.. 2) Chay pai thrim - Positive Laws. In general, positive laws are based on the following principles:
Thri Tse Bum Zher (separation of power and responsibility).
Gyalkhab Paer Lang Ki thrim (obedience to laws).
Do laen Zhi Chi Gi thrim (fair trial).
Wangchen Chay ki Chathrim (adjudication by due process).
Khabso Lang Pai thrim (equal justice without discrimination).
Bum Ser Thog Shawa Chen gi thrim (weights and measures - fair trade).
[Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

Penal Code in Bhutan in the 1990s and Reforms in the 2000s

Arrests can be made only under legal authority. Exile, stated as a punishment in the 1953 Constitution of the National Assembly, and its 1968 revision, is not used as a form of punishment, and mutilation was abolished in 1965. Fines, according to various reports, ranged from the equivalent of US$10 to US$55, and jail sentences from seven days to one month were levied against citizens who violated a compulsory but not widely enforced 1989 royal decree that they wear the national dress at formal gatherings to preserve and promote Bhutanese culture. With respect to international criminal law, in 1988 the National Assembly ratified a SAARC convention on terrorism, which Bhutan has consistently condemned in international forums. It provided for extradition of terrorists. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The last half of the twentieth century was a momentous period in Bhutan's long historical development. The nation moved from a traditional system of governance to a de facto constitutional monarchy while retaining its firm Buddhist religious basis. Physical isolation was overcome with major road construction and advances in telecommunications that linked the various parts of the country and gave greater access to the outside world. International air travel brought tourism and greater amounts of foreign exchange needed for economic development. Having observed the problems encountered by other developing nations, Bhutan sought a more controlled economic and infrastructure development with the assistance of major foreign and international organizations. Once exclusively reliant on India for trade and aid, the kingdom broadened its import/export base and diversified its sources of economic assistance markedly during this period.*

Despite these positive achievements, Bhutan faced serious political problems in the early 1990s. The Nepalese minority in southern Bhutan had been a source of serious ethnic disturbances and even terrorist acts, and its demands for greater participation in the political process had been on the rise since the mid-1980s. The threat to the indigenous population of gradually being outnumbered by politically active immigrant Nepalese raised for Bhutan's leaders the specter of Sikkim's annexation by India in 1974, when that kingdom's indigenous Buddhist people became a minority in their own country and lost political power. The question of how to modernize the nation politically remained a crucial one, and Bhutan's independence and sovereignty hung in the balance as the 1990s progressed.*

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “In keeping with the policies of modernization being pursued in Bhutan, the government formed a special committee in 1998 to review the country's laws and propose changes in the legal system. One of these changes saw the creation, in April 2000, of a Department of Legal Affairs to investigate and prosecute criminal and civil cases against civil servants. This department was predicted to be the likely forerunner of a fully fledged Attorney General's office or a Department of Justice. In 2001, a Civil and Criminal Procedure Code was enacted by the National Assembly, as a way of strengthening and reforming the legal system. In addition, in 2003, the king approved the establishment of a five-member National Judicial Commission to oversee the appointment of judges and other judicial staff. The government prohibits collective bargaining, unions, and strikes. Capital punishment was abolished in 2004 and a new penal code was established in August of that same year. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007 ]

Smoking Laws and Tobacco Ban in Bhutan

Bhutan has some of the world’s strictest anti-tobacco laws. Cigarettes and smoking are virtually illegal in Bhutan although some people do smoking. Bhutan was one the first nations to completely ban the sale of tobacco. Sales of all tobacco products were banned in 2004. A government spokesman said sat the time: “It’s for the well-being of the people, to protect the environment and preserve our culture.” Smoking in public places was banned but people could still smoke in their homes if they wanted. At that time, a 100 percent was levied on tobacco products brought into the country and the punishment for the sale to tobacco was US$225.

The Tobacco Control Act of 2010 made chewing tobacco and smoking cigarettes a non-bailable offense. Anyone in Bhutan selling tobacco or found with cigarettes that have not been declared to customs has committed a non-bailable offence that carries minimum three years and a maximum five-year prison sentence if the person is unable to produce a receipt declaring payment of import duties. Adam Plowright of AFP wrote: The 2010 law “sought to crack down on smuggling by introducing a prison term for offenders. The Tobacco Control Act does not make smoking illegal, but it restricts smokers to private use of a maximum of 200 grams of tobacco and 200 cigarettes per month that can be legally imported. Users have to keep the customs receipts to prove that duties of up to 200 percent have been paid. [Source: Adam Plowright, AFP, September 6, 2011; Democracy in Bhutan: A Critical Assessment by Bhujel Dhan Kumar, South Asia Journal, July 8, 2015]

The Tobacco Control Act of 2010 was widely criticized after a 23-year-old monks was sentenced to three years in jail for possession of US$2.25 worth of chewing tobacco. Under public pressure the act was amended in January 2012. Now the amended Tobacco Control Act allows imports of tobacco and its products for personal consumption including 300 cigarettes, 400 bidis, 50 cigars and 250 grams of other tobacco products by paying required import duties.

It is said Guru Rinpochhe (Padmasandhava), Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist saint, credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan condemned tobacco in his teachings and scriptures as early as in the eighth century. Arthur Lubow wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “When I asked a former Bhutanese smoker why the country banned cigarette sales (a brisk black-market trade persists), I was told that tobacco is made of the ash of a demoness who was shattered into a thousand pieces when kicked by Guru Rinpoche's horse. Such stories probably began as parables for how Buddhism superseded the animist Bon religion in Bhutan. However, the old gods were never completely effaced. [Source: Arthur Lubow, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2008]

Courts in Bhutan

The Courts in Bhutan includes the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Dzongkhag Courts, the Dungkhag Courts, and any other Courts that may be established from time to time by His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission. 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 Dungkhag Courts. There are no courts or tribunals of special jurisdiction in Bhutan. [Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

Supreme Court is the highest court of law in Bhutan and presided over by the Chief Justice of Bhutan. The Supreme Court shall exercise appeal, 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 shall have original jurisdiction over it. It shall exercise jurisdiction outside Bhutan on the basis of International Law principles. The Supreme Court shall be a court of record, the guardian of the Constitution, and the final authority on its interpretation.|=|

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court shall extend to the whole of Bhutan, all persons therein, and all persons with an established legal relationship to Bhutan. The jurisdiction of the High Court extends to the whole of Bhutan. It has original jurisdiction over cases; arising out of or under international treaties, conventions and covenants; where the lower court does not otherwise have original jurisdiction; between two or more Dzongkhags; in which Bhutan or the Government of Bhutan is a party and of rights of habeas corpus. The High Court shall admit appeals against interlocutory orders of a Dzongkhag Court or a Dungkhag Court, if there are sufficient reasons for admitting them. (A Court passes an interlocutory order during the course of a trial to prevent any harm or injury that may be suffered by the petitioner owing to any action or inaction of a person or authority in case a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order is not issued.)|=|

Dzongkhag Court are district level courts. At present, Bhutan is geographically divided into twenty Dzongkhags or districts. Each Dzongkhag has a Court. The first Dzongkhag Court was established in 1960/61. Usually, the Dzongkhag Court is made up of one Bench, though there are some Dzongkhag Courts that have division Benches.The Dzongkhag Court exercises original jurisdiction in all cases in its territorial jurisdiction. Appeals from an order of Judgment of a Dungkhag court are made to the Dzongkhag Court. Every Dzongkhag drangpon is assisted by one or more drangpon rabjams/Registrars. The Dzongkhag Court has original jurisdiction in all cases where venue exists in its territorial jurisdiction and where original jurisdiction of the High Court does not apply. The Dzongkhag Court is presided over by a Dzongkhag Drangpon. Every Dzongkhag Drangpon is assisted by one or more Drangpon Rabjam(s) or registrar(s). The Dzongkhag Drangpons are appointed by the Chief Justice of Bhutan on the recommendation of the Royal Judicial Service Council.|=|

Dungkhag Court was established in 1978. There are fifteen such courts in the country and they exercise original jurisdiction in all cases in their territorial jurisdiction. It is presided over by a Dungkhag Drangpon. The Dungkhag Court has original jurisdiction in all cases where venue exists in its territorial jurisdiction and where the original jurisdiction of the High Court and Dzongkhag Court does not apply. The Dungkhag Court is presided over by a Dungkhag Drangpon. The chief Justice of Bhutan appoints legally qualified, experienced and competent persons of high integrity as Dungkhag drangpons upon the recommendation of the Royal Judicial Service Council.|=|

Registrar General heads the administrative division of the Courts. He is also the head of Finance. He is supported by other administrative staff, and is responsible for the overall administrative work in the High Court and the subordinate courts. His responsibility includes the appointment, transfer, supervision and Human Resource Development of Court staffs. The Chief Justice of Bhutan appoints the Registrar General of the Supreme Court and High Court for a period of three years. They serve at the pleasure of the Chief Justice and may only serve for one term. The Judges supported by other administrative staffs carries out the administration of the Court in the Dungkhags and the Dzongkhags.|=|

The Courts remain open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. in summers and from 9 a.m to 4 p.m during winters. It remains closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and government holidays. Under the Royal Command, the Research and Training Bureau of the Judiciary was established in 1994. The Research Bureau has conducted important research on the sources of Bhutanese laws, court etiquette and manners, formal address and titles, legal terminology, etc. Further, the Research and Training Bureau conduct in-service legal education, including sessions on procedural code, information technology, and Bhutanese literature. |=|

Supreme Court and High Court of Bhutan

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. The Thrimzhung Chhenmo 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. [Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

Established in 1968, the High Court is made up of three Benches. A minimum of two justices comprises a Bench. The High Court exercises original jurisdiction as well as appellate and extra-territorial jurisdiction. As with the Supreme Court, the High Court also possesses inherent powers and exercises extra-territorial jurisdiction on the basis of international law principles. It is presided over by the Chief Justice of High Court. [Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

His Majesty, in exercise of his Royal Prerogatives may grant amnesty and reduction of sentences. The Supreme Court-High Court of Bhutan shall be the highest appellate authority to review, reverse and overrule an order, decision or Judgment. The Supreme Court and the High Court shall have powers to issue or to be moved by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by the Constitution in the form of directions, orders or writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate. The Dzongkhag Court has appellate jurisdiction over an appeal from an order, decision or judgment of Dungkhag Court subordinate to it.|=|

Where a question of law or fact is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court-High Court, His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo may refer the question to the Supreme Court for its consideration. The Court shall hear the reference and submit to His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo its opinion thereon. The Supreme Court-High Court shall have the power to review any official acts that are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. It is also provided in Cha 4 of the Kadyon that if the Supreme Court upon/High Court review discovers and finds the allegation by a department to be untrue, such department shall be liable in accordance with the law of the land.|=|

Justices of the Supreme Court and High Court

The Supreme Court of Bhutan comprises of the Chief Justice and four associate Justices. The Chief Justice is appointed from among the Drangpons of the Supreme Court or from among eminent jurists by the Druk Gyalpo 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 is earlier. The associate Justices are appointed from among the Drangpons of the High Court or from among eminent jurists by the Druk Gyalpo in consultation with the National Judicial Commission. The associate Justices will serve for ten years or until attaining the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier. [Source: Royal Court of Justice, Bhutan, judiciary.gov.bt, 2016 |=|]

His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo devised a special method to initiate the process to establish the first Supreme Court through the Royal Decree issued to the Nation on the 3rd Day of the 10th Month of the Female Earth Ox Year of the Bhutanese calendar corresponding to 19th November 2009. The Royal Commission was entrusted with the sacred responsibility of nominating a candidate for the post of Chief Justice of Bhutan and Justices of the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Chief Justice and three associate Justices were administered the oath of office and secrecy on 21st February 2010 establishing the first Supreme Court of Bhutan, coinciding with the auspicious occasion of His Majesty the King’s thirtieth birth anniversary.|=|

Appointment of Dzongkhag Drangpons dates back to 1960. After the establishment of the High Court on 3rd November 1967, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck promulgated Kadyon (Royal Edict) Nga in 1976, which provided for the appointment of the Judges (Drangpons). The first Chief Justice of Bhutan was appointed in 1985.|=|

The High Court of Bhutan, which comprises of a Chief Justice and eight Drangpons, is the court of appeal from the Dzongkhag Courts and Tribunals in all matters and exercises original jurisdiction in matters not within the jurisdiction of the Dzongkhag Courts and Tribunals and is the court of first instance for constitutional cases. The High Court Chief Justice and Justices are appointedfrom among the drangpons of dzongkhag courts or from eminent jurists by Druk Gyalpo on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission.|=|

The High Court for administrative purposes consists of different Benches including larger Benches constituted by the Chief Justice of the High Court as required in the interest of Justice. Each Bench comprises of a minimum of two Justices and maximum of three Justices to hear appeals from the subordinate Courts. The parties may proffer an appeal from the decisions rendered by the bench, which shall be heard by a larger bench constituted and presided over by the Chief Justice of the High Court consisting of a minimum of three Justices. The Acting Chief Justice and four associate Justices were administered the oath of office and secrecy on 21st May 2010. |=|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Council of Bhutan (tourism.gov.bt), National Portal of Bhutan, the Bhutan government’s main site (gov.bt), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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