OAG sees a rise in number of cases

OAG sees a rise in number of cases

34.1% increase in sexual offence cases, 214.8% surge in drug and substance abuse cases, says report

It was a busy year for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), with the office seeing a rise in the cases from 659 cases involving 1300 defendants in 2022 to 970 cases involving 1692 defendants in 2023. Further, the office restituted a total of Nu 10.284M to the government, Nu 21.459 to the victims as compensation, and Nu  28.297 as loan repayment to the financial institutions. The above and other salient aspects of the last year have been outlined in the Annual Report 2023, which the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) released today.

The report says that the investigative agencies made 970 prosecution referrals in total: 926 cases referrals from Royal Bhutan Police involving 1531 defendants, 31 cases involving 140 defendants referred by the Anti-Corruption Commission, and 13 cases from agencies involving 21 defendants. Additionally, the report maintains that the OAG, in their efforts “to enforce judgements in a timely manner,” restituted “a total of BTN 10.284M to the Royal Government of Bhutan BTN 21.459 to the victims as compensation, and BTN 28.297 as loan repayment to the financial institutions”. Further 0.75 acres of land were compensated to the victims through the office’s enforcement process. “The office organized auctions for properties seized in connection with crimes, and various substances have been transferred to the relevant agencies for destruction. The office has repatriated two illegal immigrants to India and the Philippines, administratively penalized two individuals, and implemented diversion and rehabilitation initiatives in cases involving children,” the report adds.

Moreover, the office rendered a total of 91 legal opinions on various subjects. “Among these, the International Affairs and Environment Division rendered 59 opinions on matters within the purview of public international law. The Legal Services Division provided 11 opinions, while the Finance and Corporate Division rendered 21 opinions.” The above excludes other opinions provided to Ministries, agencies, Dzongkhags, Thromdes, etc. The year also saw the Drafting Division digitize 98 national legislations and 28 international treaties and conventions.

From the cases, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) consistently dominated the caseload, contributing 96% of the cases (926 cases with 1531 defendants). The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) played a smaller role, accounting for 3% of the caseload with 31 cases and 140 defendants. Other agencies, including Ministries, collectively constituted 1% of the caseload, involving 13 cases and 21 defendants.

The OAG has highlighted that the analysis of past caseloads reveals intricate dynamics among referring agencies and a notable rise in cases received by the Office. In 2023, compared to 2022, there was a 48.6% increase in cases from the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP). “Additionally, the Office observed a 14.8% increase in cases from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and a 44.4% increase in cases from other agencies, as depicted above. The total number of RBP cases between 2017 till 2020 reflects higher numbers as it reflects the total numbers of defendants involved in the case instead of total number of cases referred by RBP,” the report says.

In 2023, the Office received 926 cases involving 1531 defendants from the RBP. Out of the total cases received, 48.7% of the cases have been disposed of, 2.8% have been returned, 34% are pending before the Court, and 14.5% are still under review.

The highest number of cases originated from the capital with a total of 327 cases involving 631 defendants, followed by Chukha with 184 cases involving 226 defendants. Out of 184 cases, 175 cases involving 208 defendants originated from Phuntsholing. The Office saw the least number of cases from Gasa Dzongkhag with just 1 case involving 3 defendants.

The Office recorded a 34.1% increase in sexual offence cases, reaching a total of 110 cases. Within this, 53% concerned rape of a child aged 12 and above, 15% were related to child molestation, and 14% were cases of statutory rape. The remaining 18% encompassed diverse offenses such as rape, incest, sexual harassment, and marital rape.

In 2023, the Office observed a substantial 214.8% surge in drug and substance abuse cases, totaling 425 compared to the previous year’s 135. Illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances (ITNDPS) constituted 83% of these cases (351 instances), followed by 9% involving illicit trafficking of cannabis and its derivatives (39 cases). The Office reported 27 cases of substance abuse, 6 of illegal inhalant/solvent sale, and 2 of possession of cannabis.

The Office dealt with 40 children in conflict with law (“CICL”) in the year 2023. This amounts to 2.6% of the total defendants (1531) referred by the RBP in 2023, as compared to 6.8% in 2022. In comparison to 2022, the Office saw a decrease in the overall number of CICL in the year 2023 by 48.7%. Out of 40 CICLs referred to Office, the Office sent 17 CICLs on diversion.

In 2023, the Office observed an increase in the number of cases and defendants referred by the ACC with 31 cases involving 140 defendants – up by 14.8% compared to 2022. Out of the total cases received from ACC, 1 was returned, 1 is under joint investigation, 15 are pending before the Courts, and 14 are under review.

As of 31st December 2023, a total of 26 cases – 14 from 2023, 10 from 2022, and 2 from 2021 – are under review. The Office has 35 cases – 15 each from 2023 and 2022, 1 each from 2021, 2020 and 2018, and 2 from 2019 – pending before the Courts.

The Office saw a 44.4% rise in cases from Other Agencies (like Ministries, Dzongkhags, and Thromdes).  In 2023, they received 13 cases involving 21 defendants, four more than the previous year. These cases involve issues like risking protected species, illegal tiger skin trade, contract disputes, land encroachment, and civil restitution. Out of these, 1 case was returned, 2 disposed, 1 pending in court, and 9 under review.

In the year under review, the Office received 7 arbitration cases. Out of the total cases received, 3 were returned to the referring agencies, from which 1 returned to the Office as an appeal request. The Office also received an appeal request for another case. The Office arbitrated and received arbitral awards for three cases. All three were appealed by the other parties to the High Court and are pending the High Court’s judgment.

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu