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Lawyers must pass Bar examination to practice

The Jabmi Act, 2016 mandates this requirement

Law graduates and those who have been practicing law after July 13, 2016, the date when the Jabmi Act came into effect, must pass the Bar examinations to practice in the country, the Bar Council said.

Members of the Bar Council presented the draft regulation for the examinations along with two other rules and regulations at its first stakeholder consultation meeting of more than 100 lawyers and paralegal practitioners yesterday in Thimphu.

Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck presided the opening of the event. HRH said that a jabmi (legal counsel) has to be professional in delivering services to the people and so it is important to ensure the knowledge and competence of these individuals through the Bar examinations.

This means, the 95 lawyers who have been issued temporary certificates of practice by the Council are likely to appear the bar examinations.  Along with them, the Council has also temporarily certified 32 former court officials including drangpons, and clerks to practice law. They can practice with the certificate until September 2018.

The Jabmi Act 2016 states that Jabmi Tshogdey (Bar council) shall regulate the practice of law by a lawyer or a paralegal who does not possess Certificate of Jabmi and other practitioners who do not possess a law degree. 

Section 19A of the Act states, “Lawyers who fulfil the criteria to become a Jabmi till the enactment of this Act shall be automatically registered as Jabmis. Upon the enactment of this Act, except the former drangpons, the lawyers shall pass the Bar Examinations to qualify as Jabmis.”

A member of the Bar Council, Jamyang Sherab said that a person who has obtained a degree on or before July 13, 2016, must sit for the examination to be certified as a jabmi.

According to the draft regulation for examinations, the Bar Council will establish a Jabmi selection examination committee comprising of a member from the Council members, three members from the Bar Association, and one with the background of legal academia appointed in consultation with the council.

The committee will prepare and conduct the examination and announce the topics on which the candidates will be tested.

To qualify for the examinations, a person has to be above 18 years, have a Bachelors degree in law, and not have criminal records. The candidate must not be declared bankrupt by a court.

“An unsuccessful candidate can attempt the examinations as many times as one wishes to,” Jamyang Sherab said.

He said that the examination would be conducted once a year to start with. The examination could have multiple choice examinations, essay-type examination and submission of an assignment, Jamyang Sherab said.

According to the draft regulation, the examination would be conducted either in Dzongkha or English.

The council in consultation with the committee would set the minimum marks required to pass the examination. Those who pass the examination and join other sectors need to surrender the certificate of practice to the council as latent membership.

“If the individual opts to practice, the certificate could be reissued,” Jamyang Sherab said.

The Bar Council constitutes seven members with an independent representative. HRH is the president and former Supreme Court justice Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen is the vice president.

Jabmi is a Bhutanese legal counsel who has been licensed to practice, including those who have been issued a licence before the enactment of the Jabmi Act.

The Bar Council also presented the draft regulation on the conduct of lawyers of the Bar, and rules of procedure of members of the Bar Council and the secretariat.

HRH also said that the two documents were important for the newly established council to perform its mandates transparently, professionally and earn the trusts and confidence of the people.

“The jabmi must strive to help the judiciary in delivering justice to the aggrieved and strengthen the rule of law in the country,” HRH Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck said.

One of the jabmis, Karma Sonam said that it seemed unfair to leave out those without a law degree from entering the examinations. He said that after 22 years of service, he knows well to represent his clients in the court.

“Given our experience, we can still continue in this profession, but not allowing us to practice from next year is unfair,” he said.

However, Council members clarified that it was specifically mentioned in the Act and that the Bar Council cannot do anything but follow the law. The temporary certificates were issued to allow them to complete the cases they have at hand, Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen said.

Some also raised concerns about not completing the cases within the given time until September 2018. The Bar Council of Bhutan was established on May 10, last year.

Tshering Palden

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