Judiciary: Monetary and matrimonial cases rule the charts

The National Assembly in session

Sonam Penjor

The judiciary adjudicated 35,594 cases from 2012 to 2016 of which, 28,514 accounting to 80 percent were civil cases and 7, 080 accounting to 20 percent was criminal cases.

As evident from the annual reports of the judiciary, monetary cases followed by matrimonial topped the list of cases. This is according to the presentation made by NA’s Public Account Committee (PAC) on 21 June to the joint sitting of Parliament.

Currently, there are 15 Dungkhag Courts besides 20 Dzongkhag Courts, High Court and Supreme Court in the country.

Towards rendering convenient, timely and specialized justice services, the Judiciary initiated significant reforms in its judicial process.

The achievement, according to the PAC, as per the 18th National Judicial conference in 2007, processing and decision of all cases to be complete within 12 months.

Against this benchmark, 97 percent of the total cases from 2012 – 2016 were adjudicated within 12 months. The Judiciary on average took 69 days to dispose a case – 62 days for the criminal cases and 77 days for civil cases.

They also established a Green Bench at the High Court in 2015 to adjudicate all environmental disputes; established specialized benches for the Civil, Criminal, Commercial, Family and Child related cases at Thimphu Dzongkhag Court in 2016.

Others like upgradation of the standalone Case Information System to web-based Case Management System and infrastructure and human resources developments were also achieved.

However, the PAC observed significant shortcomings including the Judicial Service Act which provides that judicial support personnel must have a minimum of Bachelor’s degree and a year of National Legal Course as an entry level qualification.

They noted that Bench Clerks with minimum of class 12 with Diploma in National Law are also recruited.

“It is observed that while the Drangpons and Drangpon Rabjams are governed by the Judicial Service Act the AFD personnel, Court Registrars and Bench Clerks are governed by the Civil Service Act. This poses great challenge in meeting adequate HR requirement,” the PAC report stated.

The PAC also observed that while the Registry of Courts must be headed by a qualified Court Registers, Bench Clerks were performing the task of Registers in 15 Dzongkhag Courts and 13 Dungkhag Courts.

“Under such situation, Drangpons had to spend substantial part of their time in guiding Registry and making decisions over miscellaneous matters. The Royal Judicial Service Council would review laws from time to time and propose amendments and modifications to the Parliament. However, it has not been effectively initiated so far,” the report stated.             

The PAC further observed that the case hearings in the Trial Courts are not scheduled systematically. It is often scheduled based on the preferences and conveniences of the clerks thereby, causing prolonged delays and inconveniences to the litigants.

It also noted that though a maximum of five hearings should be conducted in a day, court officials are overburdened with 15-20 hearings on average in a day.

Further, it was also observed that though the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) allows fixation of bail amount at 10 to 30 percent of the income of the surety, there is huge discrepancy in the bail amount even though the crimes are of similar offence.

There is also no system to capture factors determining the bail amount.

From 2012 – 2016, a total of 2, 208 cases were appealed – 777 to the Supreme Court and 1431 to the High Court.

The Supreme Court decided only 156 cases accounting to 79 percent out of 197 registered cases. Of this, 119 cases, 76 percent witnessed total or partial reversal in the judgments.

Likewise, the High Court decided only 1,299 cases accounting to 91 percent. Of this, 350 cases, 27 percent witnessed total or partial change in the judgments.

From 2012 – 2016, 922 cases took more than one year to get disposed, out of which 752 were civil and 170 criminal cases.

It was also revealed that the CCPC requires convening of the preliminary hearing within 10 days of registration for criminal cases and within 108 days for civil cases.

However, the PAC observed that 1,688 civil cases accounting to 6 percent took more than 108 to 946 days to conduct preliminary hearing after registration. Likewise, 1,508 criminal cases accounting to 21 percent took more than 10 to 468 days to conduct preliminary hearing after registration.

Meanwhile, in view of the increasing number of cases before the Dzongkhag Courts, the PAC recommended to appoint Drangpon Rabjams or Registrars in the Dzongkhag courts to reduce the work load of Drangpons and facilitate fair, timely and efficient trial.

Section 109 of CCPC provides a blanket right of appeal where either party abuses the system, harasses the party and flood the Appellate Courts with appeal cases.

To streamline the appeal system, the PAC also recommended to amend CCPC Section 109.1 with the additional clause as ‘if the grounds of appeal are specially mentioned’, and notary services though important are not directly related to Judiciary mandate.

It also consumes substantial amount of time and resources, which otherwise can be devoted to adjudication of cases. In view of this, recommended Government that it must review delinking of Notary Public Office from the Judiciary.