On 5th October 2023, the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSW Law), held the Tashi Rabney ceremony of its campus in Pangbisa, Paro, coinciding with the auspicious 21st day of the eighth month.
The ceremony was graced by His Majesty The King, His Majesty the Fourth Gyalpo, His Royal Highness The Gyalsey and Members of the Royal Family, senior government officials, donors, partners, and alumni.
The Rabney ceremony included Tashi Ngasoel ritual to receive the blessings of His Majesty The King and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for the institute’s continued success.
HRH Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, the President, along with members of JSW Law offered Buelwa to His Majesty The King and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
JSW Law is Bhutan’s only law school in Bhutan, established by Royal Charter in 2015. Two batches of law students have graduated from the school. The campus at Pangbisa, with state-of-the-art facilities, incorporates sustainability in its infrastructure to combine tradition and innovation.
While addressing the 19th National Judicial Conference on June 11, 2010, His Majesty commanded that there is a need to strengthen the people’s awareness on laws, the judicial system and its functions. His Majesty commanded that, “… there is much to be done such as the establishing of a Law Institute and a Research Centre…”
Thus, the Royal Law Project (RLP) was instituted, comprising of the Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), Royal Institute of Law (RIL) and the Law Library, with Her Royal Highness, Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck as President.
The BNLI provides support and trainings to in-service legal personnel in the country and the RIL is responsible for conducting courses for the preservice legal personnel.
The Law Library is a shared resource of these two Institutions functioning as the Legal Research Centre. The main objectives of the RLP are to ensure justice and unity, happiness and wellbeing of people under the rule of law, to strengthen legal capabilities that support and contribute towards building a vibrant judicial system and democracy, and to preserve and promote indigenous Bhutanese jurisprudence which has its basis on the Tsa-yig (Charter) of the Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal and the Buddhist teachings. The importance of The Judiciary stems not just to act as a check and balance institution in a democracy.
There is another provision enshrined in the Constitution, which makes Bhutan’s Judiciary powerful and responsible. The Supreme Court of Bhutan is the Kingdom of Bhutan’s highest court of review and interpreter of the Constitution.
In 2008, White and Case Frankfurt partner Andreas Knebel, chose Bhutan as the country for his vacation. Bhutan had just transformed to a democracy. It can justifiably be said that he experienced the same if not similar gush to do something for Bhutan, just like many others. And as Andreas Knebel, returned home, he carried a message for his Chairman, Hugh Verrier. During his vacation, he had felt and seen that the Kingdom of Bhutan, which was transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a democracy, had a strong desire to establish its own law school. The Chairman thought of corporate social responsibility and the immense benefits that a small and emerging democracy would reap, if the global firm could assist Bhutan.
He did not waste time and communicated to His Majesty the King, about the possibilities of assistance. Hugh flew to Bhutan for a Royal Audience. His Majesty and the Chairman shared similar wavelengths of though and there was consensus that the establishment of a law school was very important. Chairman Hugh offered the services and support of White and Case for the project. In the absence of a law school, Bhutanese study law in India. The Royal Institute of Management in Semtokha offers Post Graduate Diploma in National Law, or PGDNL, which is a pathway to the practice of law in Bhutan. Australia is another country where Bhutanese lawyers and judges pursue their Masters in Law. For a country which is committed to preserve and promote her culture, the need of its own law school was imperative.
Only within the walls of Her own school would aspiring lawyers and judges learn law, together with local culture, values and history. This was His Majesty’s vision for law and to spearhead it, His Majesty appointed Her Royal Highness (HRH), Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, who had completed her masters in law from Harvard Law School, to head the project as President of the Royal Institute of Law. In the earlier stages of collaboration, Bhutan’s first law library was established. This was followed by the recruitment of two American Law School academics, as resource persons for the development of the law school’s strategic plan, curriculum and business model. In the fall of 2014, Hugh Verrier and Her Royal Highness presented the collaboration as a joint Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. The next year witnessed a milestone in Bhutan’s Judiciary.
On February 21, 2015, coinciding with His Majesty’s birthday, a Royal Charter was granted for the establishment of Bhutan’s first law school. The Charter was signed by His Majesty at 1:06 PM in a simple ceremony, in the presence of Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen and the members of the Review Committee, in the Throne Room, at Tashichhodzong. President of the Law School, HRH, Sonam Dechan Wangchuck received the Royal Charter from the Throne. The ceremony and venue where the Charter was signed and received are symbols of the importance that His Majesty attached to the project. Apart from establishing the law school as an autonomous not-for-profit tertiary educational institution, the Charter states that the law school’s objectives are not only to provide legal education, but also, to facilitate research and promote cultural enrichment and traditional Bhutanese values. Embedded in the Charter is the importance of the law school in promoting the rule of law in order to ensure a fair and just society.
The main or ultimate end is to ensure peaceful co-existence, unity, happiness and well-being of the Bhutanese people, and the security and sovereignty of the nation. In reverence to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the school has been named the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law. On May 29, 2016, His Majesty The King graced the ground-breaking ceremony (Sa-Lhang Tendrel) of the school. The ceremony marked the start of the infrastructure development of the law school. The school has begun hiring faculty, decided on an admissions process and crafted a curriculum that, while drawing upon ideas from around the globe, is uniquely Bhutanese.
The Law School is also testament of good relations between Bhutan and supporters like India, Austria and others.
The Law school resonates the importance His Majesty’s places on a just and content society and the need for strong standards of the Rule of Law. Legal education is the foundation and an indispensable and vital component of such a society. Therefore, His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck established Bhutan’s first law school by promulgating the Royal Charter on the auspicious day of the 21st February 2015. The core objective of the law school is to provide legal education, facilitate research in law and related fields, promote cultural enrichment and traditional values. To realise this core objective, the law school is guided by the core values reflected in the motto— “Justice, Service, Wisdom.” These values reflect our aspiration to promote justice, provide services unconditionally to the Tsa-Wa-Sum with the wisdom to promote vibrant democracy, the Rule of Law, and cultural and traditional values to ensure the well-being and happiness of the people and security of the nation.
According to the School, the core values of “Justice, Service, Wisdom” are founded on the qualities of His Majesty the Great Fourth—mirroring the initial “JSW” of His Majesty the King “Jigme Singye Wangchuck.” His Majesty the Fourth King is not only the author of Bhutan’s unique development, “Gross National Happiness”, but He is also the father of Bhutan’s Constitution and Democracy. Thus, the name of the school is taken from our Great Fourth. It is His leadership, His excellence, and unshakable reputation that inspired to name the school “Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law.” “As our Nation’s Conscience, it is in His name, we are pledged to uphold our sacred Constitution, and aspire to achieve the goals of Gross National Happiness.”
The law school opened its door to the historic first class of students (Class of 2022) on 3rd July 2017. This group of 25 students was selected from among 499 applicants and the group constituted 13 female and 12 male students. They represented 19 of Bhutan’s 58 Higher Secondary Schools (HSS) and Central Schools (CS). They went to high school in 12 of the 19 Dzongkhags that have high schools.
“JSW Law prepares exceptional Bhutanese students to become future leaders of the country, with a focus on social justice and responsible stewardship of the environment,” states the Founding Dean, Sangay Dorjee of JSW Law.
“They gain practical experience and help the local community through three innovative legal clinics that focus on Human Dignity, including cultural preservation; Entrepreneurship, reflecting growing commercial interests in Bhutan; and Alternative Dispute Resolution, which harnesses the power of a particularly Bhutanese method focused on conflict mediation.
Similarly, Kinzang Chedup, Deputy Chief Legal Officer, Bhutan National Legal Institute, said, “The law college will serve as an important repository of legal knowledge and capacity building of legal professionals to secure a good legal and justice infrastructure in the country.”
“The law school is an epitome of excellence in legal education and will serve as an important agency for learning and knowledge creation,” said the Deputy Chief Legal Officer, adding that, the law school serves as a professional pivot for enhanced legal education that is rested on modern legal ethos and legal culture.
“The institution will impart education with experience, professionalism and shared culture of value, integrity and highest professional expertise,” Kinzang Chedup said.
JSW Law alumni, Kuenley Lhaden Gyaltshen, who is currently working as a Consultant with UNDP said, “The law school’s curriculum is one of kind in the world. It is a blend of promoting Bhutanese traditions and working towards meeting the demands of modernity and global issues.”
Kuenley shared that the law school’s clinic and externship programme provides a hands-on learning opportunity for students across all fields of work, equipping us with the right skills, knowledge and mindset after graduation.
Kuenley said that JSW Law mirrors the just and compassionates dedication of our great kings and their profound vision of upholding the rule of law and ensuring the people’s well being and happiness.
“We are blessed to be a part of Bhutan’s first law school and are committed to fulfilling the path of serving the Tsa-wa-sun through Justice, Service and Wisdom,” Kuenley said.
Sherab Dorji from Thimphu