Honorable Attorney General Dasho Shera Lhendup
Council Member Mr. Ugyen Dorji
Representatives from the Royal Court of Justice, RBP, BNLI, GNHC, NCWC,
All participants of the workshop,
Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of UNDP, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to be here with you all this morning to validate the Strategic Plan for the Bar Council.
As you all know, the Jabmi (Jab-Me) Act of Bhutan was enacted in the year 2003 and with that, the Bar Council was established.
However, it took some time before the Bar Council was finally established only in May 2017. During this time, the number of legal practitioners increased, creating an important critical mass to form the membership of the Council.
UNDP was called upon to support the development of the Strategic Plan since the Council has been operating without a roadmap which clearly defines its goals, as well as how to raise resources and how to utilize them to achieve these goals.
Our partnership with the Bar Council did not start with this particular exercise. It dates back to 2014 when we first supported the baseline assessment and feasibility study on the establishment of the Bar Association of Bhutan.
Following this study, in 2017, the Bar Council of Bhutan was established with support from UNDP and ADC. Since then, we have supported drafting of the rules of procedure for bar exams and regulation on conduct of lawyers, certification of the private lawyers, and later the conduct of the first bar examinations.
More recently, UNDP facilitated a South- South exchange programme through the participation of a 13-member delegation from the Justice Sector Working committee to attend a probono conference in Nepal in September 2019. Immediately following this morning’s programme, there will be a debriefing session by the delegation. I look forward to hearing from the delegation members about the lessons as well as recommendations from the exchange.
All of this has been undertaken as an integral part of the priorities outlined in the country’s overall Justice Sector Strategy which UNDP had a privileged of facilitating.
These humble but consistent support, I hope, speak to UNDP’s unequivocal commitment towards strengthening the justice sector. We firmly believe that the Bar Council is the forerunner in promoting access to justice to all and rule of law in the country. I believe that the vision and priorities outlined in the strategy mirror this aspiration.
Today, we are gathered here to validate the Strategic Plan, developed for a period of four years i.e. from 2019 to 2023
I believe it is timely for the Bar Council to launch its strategic plan. As mentioned earlier, the number of legal professionals has been increasing in Bhutan, and this trend will be accelerated with the highly capable young lawyers graduating from the country’s first law school, the JWSC law school.
My career started at a training institute on international law, attached to the Georgetown Law School in Washington DC. While I did not pursue a law degree, because of my profound memories from working at the International Law Institute, if you may allow me, I consider myself as a sister cousin of a legal fraternity (and I am married to a lawyer).
I have always thought that being a lawyer comes with challenges and grave responsibilities of putting the needs of clients first. One of the four priorities that the Strategic Plan has identified for the Bar Council is the Enhancement of professional Standards, Ethics and Discipline. It further identifies providing Pro-bono services and assisting in the dispensation of legal aid as another priority.
Globally, there have been great problems in maintaining in adequately high ethical standards in legal profession. In many places, this problem has led to the undermining of public confidence, not only in the legal profession, but also in the whole legal process. You would agree that this is exemplified by many jokes that pre-date Shakespeare’s comedy theatre about lawyers being dishonest or not putting clients’ needs first.
What the strategy in Bhutan presents today is a wonderful opportunity for us to avoid allowing our legal culture to be tainted by such perception. The legal profession in Bhutan has only recent come organized in the form of a bar association. The Bar Council is well placed to facilitate the continued upholding of highest ethical standards amongst legal professionals and to ensure timely and fair dispensation of justice and protection of rights for the under-represented and the marginalized. This truly reflects the spirit of leaving no-one behind.
In Bhutan, I believe that high levels of integrity and honesty are firmly rooted in the legal fraternity. If I may humbly quote His Majesty the King,
“One of the key attributes that will set us apart from others is the value of integrity, tha-damtsi. We must be a nation of honest, reliable and trustworthy people. Secondly, we need to focus on creativity- for what we lack in numbers we must make up in talent. Thirdly, we must emphasize quality in whatever we do so that we can strive for perfection."
At times, in a peace-loving GNH nation, litigation might not be in the best interest of your client. A victim of an unfortunate domestic violence may require your pro-bono legal services. Putting the interests of those in need and having compassion towards them come natural to GNH citizens. Bhutan is a fertile ground for the top-quality legal professions, underpinned by high levels of integrity and honesty. I have no doubt that the Bar Council will play an important role in deepening this noble legal culture in Bhutan.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge and commend the strong ownership demonstrated by the Bar Council, effective support extended by the Programme Management Unit of the Justice Sector Strategy, housed at GNHC, as well as the members of the Justice Sector Working Committee in the formulation of the Strategic Plan for the Bar Council.
This partnership ensured synergies between the work of the Bar Council and the goals outlined in the Justice Sector Strategy 2019-2023.
UNDP is extremely pleased to continue to be a trusted partner in the Justice Sector and we hope to be able to offer technical expertise, lessons from our global and regional experiences where our services are called upon. We look forward to working closely with all of you in the implementation of the Justice Sector Strategy to achieve the overall national vision of a “a free, fair, just and a harmonious society” for all.
Tashi Delek !