Interpreting our Constitution

“WE, the people of Bhutan … do hereby ordain and adopt this Constitution for the Kingdom of Bhutan …” proclaims the preamble of our constitution.

And Article 1 declares that “This Constitution is the supreme law of the State.” And that “The Supreme Court shall be the guardian of this Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation”.

If legal interpretation of the Constitution was needed it should have been provided by the Royal Courts of Justice which includes the Supreme Court, the High Court, Dzongkhag Courts and Dungkhag Courts. The Supreme Court has the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, but that does not mean that legal interpretation of the Constitution cannot be provided by other courts.

So I’m surprised that the National Assembly asked a foreign legal expert to interpret our Constitution (read Indian advocate interprets constitution). And even more surprised that the foreigner’s opinion, which is of no legal consequence, has been made public.

 

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  1. shame shame papa shame…..we are acting childish too much seeking so many helps from foreigners!

  2. Yeah, really. Why couldn’t a Bhutanese interpret our own constitution? What happened to our legal expertise? It was bizarre to get an Indian to interpret our own constitution. Pthooeey!

    I don’t understand this fascination with anything “Indian.” Even during the coronation, with all the guests around, we had to proudly announce…”led by Captain so an so who got this and that award from the National Defence Academy. Now, I understand that is where we train our officers, but the Indian Army isn’t the world’s foremost army! C’mon. And what does it matter to the world at large? I was cringing. Let us not be limited by our own narrow mindedness.

    Whose dumb-ass idea was it to get the Indian guy’s opinion anyway??? Geez!

  3. OUTSOURCEing has become part of all bhutanese..
    I think the constitution is written by our own people and not by other. if that is true than, Are all our NA and NC not capable of understanding the constitution written by our own people. are we “the NA And NC” have so much indifference that we seek other people’s help to settle things out. personal opinon, there is no harm if we make mistake at one shot, we can always try to correct next time. this way we can learn our mistake but the way like this , niether of the house will learn if they were right or wrong..
    Really sad…

  4. Dear OL,
    Personally, i donot understand and know who are the member of NA. Are thoses MPS, OR NC OR the ministers.. please let me know.

  5. Tshering Tobgay says:

    Dear Anonymous (8:29)
    our parliament consists of three parts:the Druk Gyalpo, NC and NA.

    the NC has 25 members. 20 of them are elected from the 20 dzongkhags – one per dzongkhag. these 20 cannot belong to any political party. the remaining 5 are nominated by His Majesty the King.

    One member per constituency is elected to the NA. There are 47 constituencies, hence 47 members in NA. Members to the NA must belong to a political party. The party with the majority of seats in the NA forms the governement…that is it chooses the ministeres from the members in the NA.

    Please visit http://www.constitution.bt for more details on how the parliament is formed.

    Most of the debate over the powers of the NC and NA concern interpretation of Article 13 (Passing of Bills) and Article 14 (Finance, Trade and Commerce) of the Constitution.

    I hope this helps.

  6. Why does the constitution need to be interpreted in the first place? Is it not supposed to be plain simple straightforward, so that all citizens of the country can understand it?

  7. Maybe it is because we have taken help from a large number of countries, prominent amongst them being experts from India in drafting it – and we are still taking help in interpreting it. By the looks of how things are going, we might be soon taking their help in implementing it too!

  8. Let us be open-minded here, folks!

    Mr. K. K. Venugopal, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, is one of the most distinguished constitutional lawyers not just of India but of the world. He was also the adviser to the drafting of our Constitution. One could not have asked for an opinion of a more qualified legal mind anywhere, especially in our country where legal experience on the Constitution is just beginning.

    And I see nothing wrong with it, as long as the opinion was sought NOT to replace the due process in which the Supreme Court of Bhutan has the final say, but to inform and benefit the parliamentary debate.

    So, the real issue is, what would the Speaker, and the NA, do with the letter it received from the Senior Advocate of India…

  9. Help! The Sashastra Seema Bal(SSB) personnel are beating up the Bhutanese travellers again (Read Bhutan Times).
    I am really really worried about the villegers of Bongo. Well, it’s not exactly Bongo as reported by BT, but it’s BayuelKunzang, a village under Bongo Geog. I even know the named individual in person. Now, let me tell you their plight.

    Bayuel Kunzang is a far flung village about a hard day’s trek from Bongo. The nearest road point is across the border about half a day’s trek. Their main source of income is oranges. Summers are terribly harsh in Bayulkunzang. The village literally gets cut off from the rest of the world due to heavy rainfall. Little streams swell up into torrential rivers all around the village and they cannot get out or in for the entire summer.
    But winter is a bliss for them. It’s when they sell their oranges and hoard up their stock for the entire summer. Villegers buy tons and tons of rice and other supplies and they transport it via West Bengal. Their nearest road point in Bhutan is Dala (about a day’s trek) but there are no proper bridges across the River.
    The villagers of Bayulkunzang are at the mercy of the SSB and never break their rules, as they know that that compliance is their only way of survival.
    The SSB tortures the villagers frequently and some times arrests them without any reason. I remember a time when a whole group of villegers went missing for an entire month while travelling. They were arrested by the SSB.
    The villagers were blind folded and tortured. Later they were released in a dense forest in West Bengal and made to flee at gun point. The villagers fled all the way to Phuntsholing.

    These people are suffering and desperately hopping for a miracle to happen while Thimphu is so full of the constitution for the Kingdom of Bhutan. Somebody help!

  10. I agree. This was not a very comfortable news to encounter. A foreigner interpreting the laws of my land to my lawmakers. And, not simple laws. Constitution, for god sake. It simply sounded ridiculous.

    However, on delving deeper, there was a logic. As you suggested, it would have been more graceful, if they had used judiciary as an intermediary to consult external experts.

    Somebody rightly pointed out that constitutional issues are best left at the hands of national authorities. There could be bigger concerns. This is not disrespecting the recent Indian law consultant, be rather a worry of a Bhutanese that a trend is not developed.

    It pains to see that a word ‘budget’ had constitutional implications. And, it pains more that it was solely due to the so called friction between NA and NC.

  11. Hello!!

    DPT is the first government and it was DPT who passed our constitution. We had thorough discussion on our constitution about a month but its sad to see at the end that it was foreigner who interpreted a simplest word ‘Bill’ and ‘Budget’ enshrined under article 13 and 14 of our constitution respectively. By doing so, NA and NC have firstly undermined themselves giving a message to the foreign people as to what kind of people constitutes Bhutanese parliament not being able to interpret a simple difference. Secondly, NA and NC have undermined our judiciary as a institution and lawyers as a interpreter.

    DPT being the party to pass and discuss the constitution should know the intention behind respective articles. Court while interpreting will refer the parliament debates and history. As simple as that but sad to see that DPT and NC didn’t realize before shame was brought to whole nation. I cant face other world if such trend continue. Hope this is first and last!!

  12. james robert says:

    Article 1 section 11of our constitution states that the Supreme Court shall be the guardian of this Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation. However, it’s sad to see that DPT government has failed to establish Supreme Court of Bhutan. Why no Supreme Court? Who all are the judges of Supreme Court? Are they ad hoc or they are appointed? KNowing the need of Supreme Court, the time has come for DPT to realise that that Supreme court need to establish as soon as possible to keep check and balance. SC as the gurdian of the constitution acts as house of review and have advisory jurisdiction to keep democracy vibrant. I think DPT is in fear to come under the lime light of Court of record!!

    Feel the heat, We feel need urgently!!

  13. Its a sad situation. this raises a different dimension on its own. Why do we have to consult people from abroad every time?
    Here is why? It has to do with taking risk….. being responsible. At the end if there’s been a mistake ..then you are not responsible.

    I interpret it this way because i have felt this several times in the past.

    Consultants and researchers from abroad are always trusted in the most sensitive matters in our own country. Decisions that are obvious are made only when an outsider endorses it.

    I say, if we don’t have the expertise…train people… give them responsibilities and make them learn from mistakes. only then we will progress.
    But it’s just difficult to trust our own people. Its also threatening to give too much responsibilities else you will lose you own job to your sub ordinates.

    we believe future lies in the hands of younger generation but we are threatened nevertheless by younger generation. and its better to consult experts from outside than to consult your on dedicated workers.

    Its no wonder civil servants or any body don’t put more effort in their work than necessary. … in some cases. Why should they? decisions are made … and orders have to be carried out. Once you do what’s on your table ..why bother about more?

    here’s another story why?

    Bhutanese heads also find scapegoats.

    Not taking responsibility is also not having to take risk and blame. But then if something goes right….. Who takes the credit? its just a shame . I could write volumes. If you please your immediate head your job is secure. i personally know people who do nothing but gossip, play games on their computer and talk on the phone with piles of paper in front of them, to work on later.

    Of course, then outside consultants and researchers are wanting!!!!!!

  14. I do not know what it means to ‘interpret’ the constitution. What I do believe is that the constitution (that is in both Dzongkha and English) is meant to be ‘understood’ by all citizens. Otherwise, I feel the whole purpose of the constitution is defeated.

  15. its really sad that we bhutanese do not trust our own people. As per my experience, we do a far better and thorough job and is more concious about our own context. This just shows our system is still sooooooo dependent on others. I am confident that even without having a background in law, I will be able to interpret our constituion far better than any foreigners. Anyways, this should be taken as a big humiliation for our legal experts and the law makers. A big question is do you justify to be sitting there on the high chair if you are not able to do your own job??????? It is very embarrasing…

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