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Effective jurisprudence if OAG handed โ€˜soleโ€™ prosecution rights

The police also undertake investigatory as well as prosecutory role, potentially a conflicting role

By Tashi Namgyal

In what could be one of the milestone reforms to be made to the Royal Bhutan Police (Amendment) Bill 2021 during this winter session, the Social and Cultural Committee of the National Assembly has proposed doing away with the policeโ€™s role as a prosecutor body.

Members of the committee expressed that the role of prosecution should be left with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the proposal was made according to the provisions of the Constitution. While reiterating that it is not all the mandate of the police to engage in prosecution, Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi echoed the Constitution, and said that the job of police is to maintain law and order, and to prevent crimes.

He also shared that just like the civil service it is also natural for the police to undergo reforms.

According to a former Attorney General (AG), there were plans for such reforms during the terms of the previous governments but OAG lacked the manpower and thatโ€™s why left the small crimes to the police.

โ€œOur initial plan was to hand over everything to the OAG but we didnโ€™t have enough manpower,โ€ he said. โ€œBut now OAG should take over everything as I personally feel that police should be left only for investigatory roles.โ€

He said that it was especially mandated to ensure that the police do not do both investigation and prosecution which would make them biased since they would want to win a case once they have charged somebody.

The proposal is also aimed at promoting separation of the roles of agencies and good governance.

How will it help in the jurisprudence by the Courts?

The former AG said that courts have some sympathy towards police as they are doing a job which is not their profession when it comes to prosecution. But with OAG, they will apply a much more standard of proof. Evidences will become key and judgments will become more reasoned.

Other reforms proposed

The committee also proposed delinking the fire and prison divisions from the police, which, members said, is aimed at making the police force professional and compact.

According to the members, delinking the two divisions would entail establishing a department for each of the two divisions, and that it was not the primary role and responsibility of the police to provide fire and prison services.

In another major reform, the committee has proposed including non-commissioned police officers and civil officials in the Police Service Board.

The proposal has been made on the grounds that non-commissioned officers who make up a majority of the police personnel needed to be represented on the board.

The board, chaired by the Additional Chief of Police, currently consists of eleven members, all of whom are commissioned officers except the head of the Law and Order Bureau under the current Act.

According to the Bill, the Chief-of-Police would report to the home secretary instead of the home minister directly.

As per the proposed Bill, the lowest- and highest-ranked police officials would retire at 56 years and 65 years respectively. The Bill also reinstates the need for the Prime Minister to recommend the police chief.

Stakeholders and officials from the RBP were consulted by the committee members, and are looking into issues related to police salaries which were not covered in the pay commission reports till date. However, members said that the proposals are being reviewed before a final report is presented in Parliament.

And also as part of the amendment process, the committee visited prisoners and met with police personnel at Chamgang Central Jail and Dawakha Open Air Prison to get their views and feedback.

The proposed amendments are expected to strengthen the police force and professionalize it. It is said that the current Act was inadequate in addressing the issues faced by the police force.

The Bill will be deliberated in the winter session of Parliament, which will begin on November 24. The proposals of the committee were discussed in the Houseโ€™s plenary session held on November 16.

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