Chairperson of the Legislative Committee of the NC, Dhan Kumar Sunwar

Civil Liability Bill heads for joint sitting as NC not happy with NA reducing many penalties

The National Assembly (NA) adopted the Civil Liability Bill of Bhutan 2022 on Thursday.

Since there are differences between the Bill approved by the NA and the National Council (NC)’s original version, the Bill was deemed disputed,

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee of the NC, Dhan Kumar Sunwar, outlined the backdrop and delivered the review report of the Bill. The House approved 69 amendments of the total 170 amendments proposed by NA, while 101 sections have been declared disputed.

A NA official stated that the Bill altered by NA included 90 percent changes. He stated that the terminology and definition have been simplified, in general.

Except for death and economic loss, everything else has been altered. The principal or changes by the NA are the penalties for damages which were reduced from the NC version.

He added that the Bill, itself, would make the society transparent, and service providers will also deliver services with caution since any negligence on part of the person or agency means they will be held accountable as a result of this Bill.

“We also believe that it will be filled with litigation since people may do it on purpose in order to obtain compensation. If all the sections of the Bill from the NC are approved, the amount of compensation required to be paid will be in the millions, which Bhutanese people will find difficult to pay. So, if they are unable to pay, they will have to go to prison, which will be difficult, which is why the penalties have been reduced,” he explained.

Apart from the many reductions in the penalties there is an overall reluctance in the NA over the bill as a view has developed among the NA MPs that this could lead to more litigations against the responsible agencies.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Committee Chairperson of the NC explained that the main part of the Bill is the compensation for the victim, which was completely erased from the Bill by the NA, hence the purpose of having this Act is lost.

“As a result, we kept the provisions that were submitted to the NC during the last session.  And the NA has added new sections, as well as many word changes, but we had to leave it the same since we derived the words from the Constitution, Penal Code, and sometimes the meanings get lost, so we had to retain it,” he explained.

He also remarked that once the Bill is enforced, low-profile people will gain from it. They are incapable of fighting whatever the case may be.

“We researched and discovered that victims did not receive compensation, despite the struggle, as in the Changjiji Pole Case, where the woman died.  There were several comparable situations. The victim has not been reimbursed by the defendant or wrongdoers. There is no accountability,” he said.

He stated that it is the first of its kind Bill in the country, and they researched and discovered that many other countries have similar bills. And it has worked well in other nations, and they feel it will work well in Bhutan if it is enforced.

“Persons who can afford lawyers, do it themselves, whereas low-profile people who are unaware of the law would profit greatly from this Bill. However, they will have to file the case; the government or police will not go to them and notify them that they would receive compensation; rather, they will have to file the case,” he explained.

He claimed that this Bill will give rights to a victim, for example, in the Changjiji Pole case, the family put the case, and asked for compensation from the agencies, but no such results were obtained, but if this Bill passes, it will assist a victim in receiving the compensation.

In the meantime, in accordance with Article 13 (8) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, the Bill will be submitted as a disputed Bill to His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo for consideration of a Joint Sitting of the Parliament.

In the Joint Sitting if the Bill is not passed then it will become a Dead Bill which may be the aim of some MPs in the NA in the first place.

The Civil Liability Bill is seen as one of very few laws that protects the life and health of individuals by placing a compensation value on it. It is also in the spirit of seeking accountability from agencies and organizations.

There have been multiple cases of deaths and injuries in Bhutan due to sheer negligence by agencies, but there has been no accountability and compensation given.

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