Appealling justice

Yesterday, after learning that the government was appealing the High Court’s verdict, Bhutan Today sent me some questions. With their permission, I’m reproducing their questions and my answers here.

What do you think about the government appealing to the Supreme Court?

I am pleased that the government has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court, as they were obviously not satisfied with the High Court’s verdict. Remember that the government has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

As far as the opposition party is concerned, we respect the government’s decision to appeal, and will submit to the judicial process completely.

Do you think the High Court’s verdict has failed to set a precedence on constitutional cases for the future?

The High Court has not failed in any way. They ordered a verdict after giving the case careful and considerable thought. The fact that the government is appealing to the Supreme Court does not diminish, in any way or manner, the excellent work done by the High Court.

How hopeful are you of what the Supreme Court might pass as verdict? Do you think it will favor the government?

I have full confidence in the Judiciary. And I am absolutely certain that the Judiciary will fulfill their Constitutional mandate to “safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.”

Obviously, we cannot predict what the final verdict will be. But regardless of how Supreme Court rules, you can rest assured that the opposition party will accept it without any question.

What is the long term implication of this case incase the Supreme Court intrepretation favors the government?

The fact that the government is appealing to the Supreme Court is good. It will bring proper closure to our first constitutional case. After all, the Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution, and the final authority on its implementation.

We will argue the case to the very best of our ability, but we will accept, and abide by, the Supreme Court’s final verdict. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, I am confident that the long term interests country and the people will be protected.

Felicitating the Judiciary

The High Court has rendered judgment on Bhutan’s first constitutional case. The esteemed Court ruled that the taxes imposed by the government earlier this year are unlawful, and ordered the government to refund those taxes. The Court also issued an injunction preventing the government from raising taxes without the Parliament’s approval.

The High Court’s landmark verdict has been hailed as a victory for the opposition party. And the opposition has received numerous congratulatory messages.

We are duly humbled. And grateful for the good wishes.

But, the felicitations are misguided.

The Court’s verdict, in fact, is not a victory for the opposition party. Nor is it a loss for the government. We must see the verdict for what it is: the High Court’s interpretation (through considerable hard work and expertise, no doubt) of the Constitution. And that interpretation is not yet binding – it can still be appealed to the Supreme Court.

But regardless of whether the High Court’s verdict is eventually upheld, revised or reversed, and regardless of whether existing laws are amended or not, what will now emerge is a clear understanding of how taxes can be raised. And that understanding will be good for all the parties involved – the government, the ruling party, the opposition, the National Council, and, most importantly, the taxpayer.

At a broader level, the High Court’s verdict is being applauded as evidence of the Judiciary’s independence and, therefore, a healthy democracy. Obviously, the verdict is important for the case. But what’s much more important are the democratic checks and balances that were set in motion almost three months ago when the High Court accepted and started considering the Constitutional Case.

So regardless of the eventual verdict, felicitations are really due to the Judiciary.