Bhutan - Judicial system

The legal system is based on English common law and Indian law. Local headmen and magistrates ( thrimpon ) hear cases in the first instance. Appeals may be made to an six-member High Court (also known as the Royal Court of Justice), established in 1968. From the High Court, a final appeal may be made to the king. Judges are appointed for life by the king. There is no written constitution, although a draft for one was submitted in December 2002. Criminal matters and most civil matters are resolved by application of the 17th century legal code as revised in 1957. Precedence is not used in the delivery of justice. Questions of family law are governed by traditional Buddhist or Hindu law. Minor offenses are adjudicated by village headmen. Criminal defendants have no right to court appointment of an attorney and no right to a jury trial. Under the 1979 Police Act, Police need a warrant to arrest a person and must bring the detainees before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Bhutan does not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

In keeping with the policies of modernization being pursued in Bhutan, the government formed a special committee in 1998 to review the country's laws and propose changes in the legal system. One of these changes saw the creation, in April 2000, of a Department of Legal Affairs to investigate and prosecute criminal and civil cases against civil servants. This may well turn out to be the forerunner of a fully fledged Attorney-General's Office or a Department of Justice. In 2001, a Civil and Criminal Procedure Code was enacted by the National Assembly, as a way of strengthening and reforming the legal system.

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