Entrance of the Thimphu District Court

District Court in Dasho Benji case says Dzongkha is not the court language

For a sizeable some, one of the main challenges of going to court in Bhutan is fighting the case in the ‘court’s language,’ Dzongkha, especially since it involves a lot of writing and submission of difficult legal terms in Dzongkha.

This is a field mastered only by a select few as evidenced in the growing number of Dzongkha legal consultants coming up, especially in Thimphu.

On the sidelines of the Dasho Benji case, the same verdict in its Court Finding’s section has justified why it accepted the submissions in English from both parties, starting from 2014.

The reference to the issues comes up with the ‘Court Findings’ section of the verdict saying that the defence lawyer made a special request to the court to allow his client to make his submissions in the English language.

It says until the time the Supreme Court issued a 3rd February 2016 notification clarifying the law and requiring courts to accept the submissions only in Dzongkha, the law, with regard to the language, was ambiguous.

The court says there was a lot of misunderstanding amongst litigants, lawyers and even the judges as to the court language and the right of parties to the use of the language in the court.

It says that the common view that Dzongkha is the court language is not only misconceived and wrong but also against the principles of fair trial.

“Until the Supreme Court clarified the law, there was no law in the country which required courts in Bhutan to conduct the proceedings in Dzongkha language,” said the court.

Section 187.1( c ) of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC), the verdict says, only provides that the criminal charge has to be written in the language of the court; however there is no law which specifies Dzongkha as the language of the court.

Secondly, the court in its findings argues, it is the right of the litigants to have their cases adjudicated in the language they understand.

“The inability of a litigant to understand the language used in court can create significant barriers to justice,” says the court.

It says this is why a number of international treaties recognized the right of individuals to be informed of charges against them in a language they understand and the right to an interpreter if they cannot understand the language used in court.

The court says that, therefore, in this case, the court, considering the right of the parties to have court hearings in the language the parties understand, accepted the request made by the defendant, and since all submissions were in English the court decided to render the judgment in the language the parties preferred.

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