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Tibetan apex court to go without chief judge as parliament rejects Charter amendment

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(, Mar30’22) – The Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has on Mar 30 failed to amend the Charter of Tibetans in Exile (the Charter) on the qualifications of a candidate for appointment as a Justice Commissioner of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission (TSJC), thus rendering it impossible to appoint a new Chief Justice Commissioner following the superannuation of Mr Sonam Norbu Dagpo recently. The proposed amendment received only 21 votes as against the minimum of 30 (the two-thirds majority) needed to adopt it.

During debate, several members opposing it objected to the amendment by referring to their extraneous grievance about the continuance in office of the two justice commissioners of the TSJC who had very controversially been removed from office by the previous TPiE, along with the then chief justice commissioner.

Apart from being a citizen of Tibet and having completed 50 years of age, the Charter requires – per Article 63 (c) – that a candidate for appointment as a Justice Commissioner of the TSJC “Must have been a judge in any court for a continuous period of 5 years, or has been an expert lawyer for at least 10 years. However, for a period of 30 years from the coming into force of this Charter, the provisions of this sub-clause on appointment of the Chief Justice Commissioner and the other two Justice Commissioners need not be adhered to.”

However, the CTA does not have a “court” nor has the TSJC a system of designating any lawyer practicing before or under it as an “expert”. And that was the reason why a committee constituted to recommend candidates for nomination and confirmation as a new chief justice commissioner failed to find any candidate, making it imperative for the Charter to be amended, including possibly by extending the period for which these prescribed qualifications need not be met.

The Charter’s outlandish provision may have been inspired by the Supreme Court and High Courts practice in India of designating an advocate as a Senior Advocate “by virtue of his ability, standing at the Bar or special knowledge or experience in law.”

The TPiE at its internal meeting failed to resolve the controversy surrounding Resolution No. 39 of the previous TPiE by which the three Justice Commissioners of the TSJC were removed in a short-shrift move without even an impeachment procedure. A committee appointed thereafter to recommend names for nomination and confirmation as their replacements failed to find any candidate agreeing to stand, plunging the CTA into an existential crisis.


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