The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has received 335 cases so far this year, including 105 COVID-19 related cases. Phuentsholing, Samtse, Sarpang and Gelaphu have the maximum COVID-19 related cases. Within the three months’ time, Samtse has contributed 42 COVID-19 related cases, which is the highest, followed by Sarpang (including Gelephu) and Phuentsholing with 31 cases each. Samdrupjongkhar saw only 1 case.
Maximum cases received are tobacco related cases, whereby there was exchange of money and products across the international border.
95 percent of the COVID-19 related cases were resolved with defendants being convicted, while the rest of the cases are under trial and some have appealed to the court. In COVID-19 related cases, OAG had to review and charge sheet the case within 48 hours from the time of case assignment, and the court took only four days to pronounce the judgment. However, in some cases it took a longer time for the judgment to be declared.
Defendants who are arrested for such cases are directly put under quarantine. The prosecution starts only after the defendants complete their quarantine and once they are handed over to the police by the health ministry.
It was learnt that as per the directives from the government to work from home and restriction on movement due to COVID-19 pandemic, most OAG prosecutors have prosecuted the case online through Skype while some of them gave the Power of Attorney (POA) to the police. In a few genuine cases, the prosecutors have had to travel in person to their respective jurisdiction.
A prosecutor with the OAG, Sangay Penjor, said they face associated challenges since they have to review and charge sheet the COVID-19 related cases within 48 hours. In his case, 80 percent of the cases are prosecuted through Skype, which was challenging, he said.
He said, “For the remaining 20 percent, my friend had to travel down to Sarpang for prosecution. Defendants are given the option by prosecution, if they prefer Skype prosecution or if they prefer prosecution in person due to various issues. So we do as they opt, however, we see how genuine the case is.”
He said time constraint, Internet disruption and collection of data and evidences in 48 hours caused much inconvenience when working from home when the courts conducted the hearing. They had to also rush to the office for printing of papers each time.
He said that the court procedure during hearings is more effective when made in person.
“We can always present the defendant’s mistake and the offences they have committed, but when having to do it through Skype, we do not get the same satisfaction as we get in person,” he added.
However, during a time when the country is in a crisis, such initiative is beneficial for defendants, the prosecutors and for the courts, he added.
Another prosecutor with OAG shared that he alone has prosecuted 38 COVID-related cases of which 32 cases are resolved and the defendants have been convicted, as they were clear-cut cases.
“We do not find difficulty in evidence gathering as almost all the defendants are caught red handed while committing the crime,” he said.
He has not prosecuted a single case through Skype nor did he travel to his jurisdiction for prosecution purpose. Everything was done in close coordination with RBP, he said. He had given the power of attorney to the police to prosecute the cases, however, the prosecutor did the charge sheet and documentations. He said it was difficult to gather all data and evidences within 48 hours.
“Some defendants have appealed on Kidu ground, asking to reconsider their sentence term,” he said.
He said that when it comes to normal cases, there is a reasonable time to review and file the charge before the court of law.
Meanwhile, the defendants are convicted for criminal nuisance, breach of public peace and tranquilities for the offences they have committed.
The court convicts them with maximum charges as the defendants are posing risk to the community and country as a whole, knowingly. Apart from these two charges, the defendants have been charged extra for the crime they have committed.
The court invokes section 210 of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan (CCPC) and gives consecutive sentences.
Section 201 of CCPC states that the court may direct any sentence of imprisonment awarded by it shall run concurrently or run consecutively with the sentences awarded either in the same trail or with a sentence that the accused is already undergoing for any offence.
Section 410 of Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 (PCB) states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of criminal nuisance, if the defendant knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition including spreading of dangerous disease that injures or endangers the safety or health of the public.
The grading of the crime as per section 411 of the same is shall be a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of 1 year to 3 years of imprisonment.
Likewise, section 448 of PCB 2004 states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of breach of public order and tranquility, if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the orders of the Royal Government issued in the interest of public safety, public order (ordre public) and tranquility.
The grading of the crime as per section 449 of the same shall be petty misdemeanor carrying a sentence of a month long to a year of imprisonment.
Other than COVID-19 cases, the other received cases are battery, rape, child molestation, murder, fraudulent cheque, illicit trafficking of drugs and tobacco products, forgery and malicious mischief.