Are fast track courts required for important cases?

There is a debate rife among people whether it is correct for the agencies concerned to continue to pay him/her (a public official including the MPs and Ministers if he/she is charged in the court, then convicted by the district court and has appealed to the higher court.

Shouldn’t the cases of such nature be fast tracked in the court?

In Bhutan, one can go all the way to the Supreme Court for any legal matters to seek justice and buy time.

MP Kuenga Loday of the Khamdang-Ramjar constituency in Trashiyangtse, who is undergoing court trial, is receiving his salary and other allowances entitled, according to the Speaker of the Parliament, Lyonpo Wangchuk Namgyal though the MP was convicted by the Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag court and has appealed to high court.

Many feel that in such cases, the authorities concerned should stop paying his/her salary until proven guilty and shared that such cases have to be dealt with on summary judgment, which is the best practice in the US and even in India where it takes a generation to get a verdict, but important cases are given priority.

Meanwhile, an officer in the civil service under investigation in any case is suspended, but later reinstated if found innocent while for the MPs, that is the luxury they have because if they are dismissed before the trial, they cannot be brought back if they are found innocent. MPs enjoy a certain immunity because they hold office in which lies the trust of the people. Until they are impeached by the Parliament, they cannot be removed.

MP Kuenga Loday along with his four nephews and Khamdang Mangmi Sangay Tempa were convicted to a compoundable prison term of three years and nine months to five years for illegal road construction in August.

MP Kuenga Loday was convicted of malicious mischief, breach of public order and tranquility, hindering prosecutions and violation of the Road Act 2013. The court sentenced him consecutively for all the charges. He has to serve five years in total. And since it is consecutive sentencing for Misdemeanor and Petty Misdemeanor, the defendants can pay in lieu of the prison term.

They were also ordered to pay a penalty of Nu 59,660 for the violation of the Environment Assessment Act. However, they have appealed to the high court.

Ritu Raj Chettri, the former MP of PDP representing Tashichhoeling constituency in Samtse and a lawyer now, said that in other countries, important cases are fast tracked but in Bhutan it is the other way round.

“Many feel that courts in Bhutan should also fast track important cases so that government resources are not wasted on the accused during the court proceedings, while such cases are handled on a fast track to ensure that the justice is served in other countries,” he said.

He further said that in other countries, depending on the type of cases some cases are heard summarily once the district court grants a conviction, but ensures a fair and free trial unless proven guilty by the highest court.

“They have something called out of turn hearing for cases of national importance to ensure timely justice. That is the way it is meant to be, but unfortunately that is not the case in our context,” he added.

He also went on to say that in the civil service, it appears as if there are two sets of laws; many people say that and people are confused. For example, if a civil servant was convicted in the past, he was either dismissed or suspended, but that is not the case with parliamentarians and other high-ranking positions. It appears that we have two laws, but I think we need to remove this ambiguity.

Meanwhile, the NA Speaker said that as long as his guilt is not proved, the MP will receive his salary, perquisites, and allowances.

“There is no reason to stop payments to MP before he/she is charged in court or before the verdict is announced. We must follow procedures and continue payments unless he/she appeals to the next court, otherwise we must continue to pay him/her,” he said.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu