With the Gyelpozhing case in the courts, Bhutan’s judiciary and judicial system is under the microscope where every move is being carefully watched and analyzed by the public.
The Judiciary will be under tremendous pressure and scrutiny like never before in its history. On one hand stand’s the most powerful people of the land, and on the other hand there is over whelming public opinion on the guilt of the accused.
If the Gyelpozhing case was important for the institutions of the media and the ACC it is all the more important for the judiciary.
In the past the public perception of judicial system was that the powerful and the connected had a better chance in the courts. The other perception was that the judiciary was regarded as a part of the government machinery along with the Dzongda and the police SP in the Dzongkhags.
The High Court and the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Tax case changed the latter perception as the Judiciary in its judgment declared itself as independent of the government.
With the Gyelpozhing case Bhutanese citizens will be waiting to see if the judicial system is free of the influence of the powerful and influential in a new democracy.
Any clumsy and one sided judgment on Gyelpozhing not based on sound legal principles, legal evidences, the principles of equality before law, and the principle of justice will do irreparable damage to the institution of the judiciary.
On the other hand while the judiciary like any other institution must be subject to democratic and transparent scrutiny, undue populist pressure must also not be placed on it. This is because though the judiciary is a powerful, old and fairly well established institution it is made up of judges who at the end of the day are human beings susceptible to human feelings and pressures.
While it is fine to have one’s own opinion on the various court judgments there will be chaos if virtually every judgment is torn apart and undermined. One example is the government’s relentless and unfair campaign demonizing the judiciary as anti-development after the tax verdict in the Supreme Court.
The judiciary’s power, prestige and also public acceptance of its judgments comes from the fact that it is seen as an institution that represents the law, the neutrality of law, the supremacy of the law and therefore justice. However, no matter how powerful it is, the judiciary will become highly vulnerable as an institution if this perception of the judiciary is constantly challenged. Therefore, in a democracy it is the duty of ordinary citizens and the powerful alike to respect and protect the sanctity of the judiciary even if judgments don’t necessarily go ones way.
This is because at the end of the day any healthy democracy needs an independent, strong and healthy judiciary to safeguard our individual and collective rights under the Constitution.
However, the judiciary must also understand that it has the biggest responsibility to protect its own sanctity and position in a young democracy. Its greatest source of power which is its role as the interpreter and upholder of the law can also become its greatest weakness if it is not fair in its judgments. If the judiciary is seen as a rubber stamp of the powerful and the connected like the OAG, then apart from the loss of faith in the institution of the judiciary the effects will also greatly undermine faith in Bhutanese democracy and governance.
So far the judiciary like so many other democratic institutions has been finding its footing and minor mistakes are inevitable. However, big or intentional mistakes, apart from the damage it causes to the rule of law and the institution of the judiciary itself will neither be forgiven nor forgotten in the public memory.