The future of law in Bhutan is secure with the opening of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law (JSWSL) and the acceptance of its first class of students.
In the remote Himalayan kingdom, along a long and winding road the JSWSL can be found nestled high amid the mountains, surrounded by an untouched natural environment.
As the country’s first dedicated law school, it aims to provide students with a legal education while promoting the nation’s cultural and traditional values.
“We have put a lot of time into considering what is needed for the future of our legal system and tailored our curriculum to suit,” JSWLS lecturer Sonam Tshering said.
“Almost 500 applicants were reduced to 25 students to ensure our first home-grown lawyers were job-ready and gain employment the day they graduate.”
Mr Tshering said the curriculum would reflect Bhutan’s transformation from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
“Students will learn a combination of Western law and Bhutanese law with a focus on alternative dispute resolution and restorative justice to ensure mutually beneficial resolutions.”
Mr Tshering said the five-year course will include two years of practical education for a student’s future in the Bhutanese court system including giving legal advice on government cases and mooting where students will simulate courtroom process.
“The curriculum for each subject is tailor made to suit the requirements of the subject and ensure that students learn more than what they would expect from a tertiary education through hands on experience, interactive experience, clinics, externships and completing the theoretical aspects of the law.”
Professor Melinda Edwards has travelled to Bhutan to educate lawyers and lawmakers about the benefits and processes of alternative dispute resolution and said the new law school be beneficial for the country and legal system.
“The JSWSL will transform the legal profession in Bhutan. Until its establishment, all aspiring lawyers had to be educated outside the country, mostly in India as there was no domestic LLB program.
“While Bhutan has been very careful to ‘cherry-pick’ the legislation it has adopted since it became a constitutional monarchy, it had no control over the knowledge, skills or capabilities its young lawyers developed, until now.
“The unique program being developed by the JSWSL can now reflect the jurisprudence of the carefully developing democracy with its emphasis on alternative dispute resolution, environmental sustainability and the principles of gross national happiness.
“All of which, in my view is likely to make it an example of best pedagogical practice in international terms.”
Thimphu high school student Tenzii Wangmo said she and many of her law clubs classmates would consider studying at the new law school.
“I think having locally educated lawyers will be good for the Bhutanese legal system and beneficial to the lawyers having been educated in their own country,” Miss Wangmo said.
“I think lawyers would understand more about the country’s law and legislature, so it would be easier to for them to be a lawyer.
“At the JSWSL they will focus on Bhutan’s law and our culture and traditions.”
As well as being a triumph for legal education, the JSWSL is leading the nation in its occupational health and safety practices and environmental sustainability.
Hard hats are being worn and environmentally sustainable materials are being used and there is hope that construction projects in the rest of the country will follow the JSWSL’s lead.
“The state of the art campus is being developed for the students with the best environment for any kind of study” Mr Tshering said
“JSW School of Law aims to become one of the premier legal institutions in the country and abroad.”
“I would like my students to become the best law graduates who can not only excel at the national level but also in the region and beyond.”