Take responsibility for breakdowns
Citing 16 examples of recent mishaps but lack of accountability, senior member of the National Council (NC), Ugyen Tshering, proposed that a civil liability or tort law be enacted.
He said the parties concerned refused to accept responsibility and the relevant authorities failed to take necessary action against the perpetrators, despite the occurrence of many unfortunate accidents resulting in death, injury and loss of public property.
Ugyen Tshering, who is also the vice chairman of the Legislative Committee, said that if passed, the law would address the ongoing plight of victims of civil injustice.
“The victims were not cured, even though the damage or injuries sustained were severe and irreparable,” he said. “Although there are corresponding regulations for the initiation of criminal proceedings, no criminal proceedings have been initiated to bring responsible persons or authorities or companies to account for the injustice committed.”
He said that in many cases the victims would not be compensated.
He cited the example where the National Referral Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) recorded 22 infant deaths in 2019 and many parents claimed poor hygiene practices and unprofessional handling of newborns. “But no one or the hospital was held responsible for the deaths.”
The committee stated that the implementation and enforcement of the law by the competent authorities such as the police, the federal prosecutor’s office and the courts are weak, which leads to a loss of trust in the legal system.
“Therefore, the House of Representatives has to submit a resolution to instruct the relevant authorities to implement the laws in their true form,” said Ugyen Tshering. “The law defines such dangerous or improper conduct that harms others as a tort or civil injustice.”
He said the Tort Act is necessary to establish and improve corrective and restorative justice for victims, and this proposed law will create accountability in the system.
The proposed legislation is also expected to instill a sense of responsibility in relevant or responsible individuals, civil servants, agencies, companies as well as citizens.
In addition to the criminal prosecution that can be brought against those who have acted negligently or failed to perform their duties, the Tort Act gives victims the opportunity to bring a civil or tortious action for redress in the event of unlawful death, injury or loss of property to search.
“This is not possible today, because in the absence of separate specific tort laws they cannot file a separate claim for compensation for the damage they have suffered,” said Ugyen Tshering. “If the person has the opportunity to face an unlawful act, the victim would not have to wait for lengthy criminal proceedings.”
He also said that a woman who worked in a drayang who filed a rape case is still waiting for justice because she is still waiting for the DNA report to be sent overseas. “If the law is passed, she could have the opportunity to sue for tort.”
Although there are few illegal acts provisions in Bhutan, which are scattered in a few laws, they mainly deal with the prosecution and conviction of the perpetrator or accused.
However, after nearly three hours of deliberation and about 19 members sharing different views on the passage of the new bill, the House decided to discuss the proposed bill further.
The Legislative Committee was asked to present the bill in the later sessions.
Although a majority of the members approved the proposal, some of the members said that the pros and cons of such a law must be weighed in order for people not to take advantage of it.
Some members indicated that it was important to consider whether this law could be incorporated as a new section in existing laws or whether it could be enacted as a specific law itself.
By Yangchen C. Rinzin
Edited by Tashi Dema