Bhutan: strengthening the judicial system
Facilitating access to independent and effective courts
The project to strengthen Bhutan’s judicial system comprises two focus areas. The first is the provision of support for basic and advanced training of judicial staff. The second is the construction of independent district courts. By concentrating efforts on training and access to justice, the project is actively supporting the establishment of good governance in Bhutan, a country which took its first steps towards democracy in 2008. Without good governance, democratic consolidation would be practically impossible.
Bhutan’s first democratically elected government took office in April 2008. Later that year, parliament adopted a new constitution which would bring an end to its absolute monarchy, a move wished by the reigning King. Since then, Bhutan has made impressive efforts to strengthen its main constitutional institutions. However, one of the major challenges the country will face in the coming years is the consolidation of its fledgling democracy.
The issues of independence and sovereignty are very important to Bhutan, a small landlocked country (population: 700,000) situated at the eastern end of the Himalayas and hemmed in by its giant neighbours, India and China. Given that good governance is one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s 2008–2013 five-year plan, justice sector reforms that include establishing a judiciary which operates independently of both the legislative and executive branches of government, are of crucial importance.
The Royal Court of Justice implemented the project to strengthen the judicial system, with assistance from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). The project is divided into two focus areas:
Establishing adequate infrastructure outside the dzong
The Bhutan Constitution provides for a Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the kingdom (which is currently based in the capital Thimphu), as well as 20 regional courts, i.e. one court per district. Traditionally, these courts were set up within the dzong, a fortress-cum-monastery complex which serves as the centre of religious, executive, judicial and administrative power of the district. An important process of separating physically – and symbolically – judicial from other powers in Bhutan has been put in place with the construction of new, modern, accessible and independent district courts.
The SDC funds the construction of the new courthouses in the districts of Bumthang and Trongsa districts. As well as their important transport links to other parts of the kingdom, both districts have a long history of working with the SDC.
Partnership with Swiss actors
Efforts will concentrate on developing classes and programmes, training educators, managing and planning demand, etc. An effective and practitionerled continuing education programme will be introduced to enable the judiciary to maintain its independence in the long term.
At the same time, the SDC has been closely involved in creating an exchange platform for Swiss and Bhutanese judges. Magistrates, registrars and administrative staff from both countries have already met several times.
The project in brief
Governance, rule of law and democracy
Royal Court of Justice, Austrian Development Agency (ADA)
Starting point/background information
In 2008, an important chapter in Bhutan’s history opened when it began the transition from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary democracy. The new Constitution redefined the judicial system, which acts as a counterbalance to the power of the state and is essential for the consolidation of democracy. Access to the judicial system and the training of personnel are priority areas of the ongoing reforms in Bhutan.
Better governance thanks to practical, efficient, fair and non-discriminatory judicial services. The project seeks to facilitate universal access to justice, particularly among the poorest.
Rural communities in two districts of Bhutan, as well as all judicial staff, judges, court clerks and administrative staff.
CHF 2,62 million
SDC’s East Asia desk