In the Shadow of the Commonwealth: Legal Education and Democratisation in Bhutan

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

Richard Whitecross
Edinburgh Napier University

Bhutan, located to the north east of India is not part of the Commonwealth. However, during the early 20th century the British colonial administration developed close ties with Bhutan. During the first part of the twentieth century the newly established monarchy focussed on consolidating its power. In the second, major economic and social reforms were introduced by the third king. These reforms included the creation of the High Court. However, it was not until the early 1990s that the need for legal education was recognised by the Bhutanese state. Since the early 1990s, Bhutanese graduates have been sent to study law in India. A National Legal Course was designed to provide training in Bhutanese law. However, increasing numbers of Bhutanese students have studied in India and subsequently, funding permitting, studied for LLMs in Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, the US and the UK. The appearance of the first cohort of formally educated lawyers created the basis for reforms to the Bhutanese judiciary in the early part of the twenty first century. Importantly, Commonwealth educated Bhutanese lawyers supported the Chief Justice, the Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee. Based on archival research and interviews this paper considers how Bhutan, although not a member of the Commonwealth, has through its close links with India and its membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation worked closely with law schools and judiciaries in a range of Commonwealth countries. The paper highlights the historical connections between British India and Bhutan, the transformation of its relationship with India and the recognition of the importance of legal education. The paper then considers the role of legal education on the Bhutanese justice system. In particular, the moves by the judiciary to provide information at a local level about the legal system and its increasing complexity. Finally, the paper examines the impact of Bhutanese lawyers studying at Commonwealth law schools specifically in relation to the recent process of democratisation.

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