The Judge who puts the guilty behind bars and dispenses justice to the innocent is by definition a powerful personality. And for the recipients where the hammer of justice lands, with cold conviction, the judge easily becomes the virtuous hand of deliverance or the cruel reaper of precious human years.
With crime rates on the climb and the social malaise taking on new avatars every other day, these purveyors of justice find themselves more and more on the other side of probable lethal modes of retaliation from those crossed and seething for ‘repayment’.
There were few incidences where people threatened a judge’s life. One such incident happened to a high court Drangpon Lungten Dubgyur when he served at the district court in Thimphu.
He said, “I was threatened outside by some individuals after a verdict, with rage and pointing fingers,”.
This is just one of the few incidences but due to repercussions from the higher authorities most of the Drangpons experiencing similar incidences are not willing to disclose it.
Nonetheless some judges are clear that it also depends upon the type of cases they handle. The judges at the district court claim they have more heinous cases to handle while limited to the quality of facility they are provided.
However till date no actual life-threatening physical attacks were made on Drangpons. The Supreme Court justice Rinzin Penjor said the possibility of happening one in the future cannot be ruled out.
The Supreme Court Justice Rinzin Penjor said “in the long run Drangpons should be provided with securities as the criminal cases become more severe every year”.
The judges in the southern region have the privilege of installed securities at their homes, this however is not provided to the judges in the other regions. Judge Gembo Tashi said, “In this profession sometimes our families’ movement is limited for safety reasons”.
Drangpon Ugyen Tshering at the Thimphu district court said providing security facilities to all the Drangpons in the country will be expensive for the government.
The life of a judge in any court by nature is no class-act, although the prominence and the stature may suggest otherwise. Bhutanese judges say unlike the old times it’s no longer a safe profession.
A judge’s in Bhutan is more or less unpleasant and more-often-than-not, that of a social outcast for it falls within their very purview of duty to practice ‘partial separation’ from the active society.
The judicial code of conduct clearly states that a Drangpon shall not be a member of any commission, committee, association or any other organizations.
The judges are refrained from attending any sort of public gathering or parties which may coincide with the interest of their litigants.
Former judge Jigme Zangpo said on the local news channel one of the reasons he moved away from Thimphu was the people’s behavior toward a judge regardless of them being a litigant or not.
There has obviously been no solution to these issues but the Drangpons say the brief tenure at their transfer destinations every two to three years where they won’t be able to establish any serious relations with the community and leave room for speculations on nepotism or favoritism in the verdicts they pass is solution in itself. But this however has serious implications on living together with their relatives under a same roof every time.
The size of the Bhutanese society is however a tail-spin away from the last point of departure and judges say there’s no telling when they might come across a litigant accidentally to encounter a socially awkward situation or in-probability a violent one.
Lungten Dubgyur said “We sometimes feel nervous to go to town unless very urgent matters come up”.
A high court source said the governing body does not directly involve in the judicial matters, but it has tremendous indirect influences.
All the resources, allowances, entitlements and salaries come from the approval of the executive branch.
Judge Gembo Tashi said”If we think about the consequences then we won’t be able to deliver fair judgment”. He said he advices his family members about him being a judge and what risks it entails.
The judges code of conduct states they should not involve in activities of profitable or private nature. District court judge Pelden Wangmo said “We are at the mercy of private building owners, while the judicial services act of Bhutan section 161 states that a sitting judge is entitled to a free and furnished accommodation or 20% of their pay as a house rent allowance”.