Top exile Tibetan justices leave post, but reject parliament’s justification for sacking them

Tibetan Supreme Chief Justice Commissioner Sonam Norbu Dagpo (center), and two Commissioners Karma Damdul (left) and Tenzin Lungtok hold a press conference. (Photo courtesy: Tibet Sun)

(, Mar27’21) – Does the removal of the justice commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration without an impartial hearing or an impeachment trial suggest that they serve at the pleasure of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile? This question stands answered only by implication as Chief Justice Commissioner Mr Sonam Norbu Dagpo and the Justice Commissioners Mr Karma Damdul and Mr Tenzin Lungtok announced on Mar 26 their departure from their posts while insisting that it was the parliament’s Standing Committee which had acted illegally.

Addressing a joint press conference, Mr Sonam Norbu Dagpo said he and his two co-panelists were accepting the decision of the parliament for their removal from office as law-biding citizens with long records of public service.

However, he also sought to make it clear that he and his colleagues were not guilty of any wrongdoing. He said the parliament’s decision would make other pillars of the Tibetan democracy work under constant fears of incurring its displeasure.

At the heart of the dispute was the parliament’s Standing Committee’s decision not hold the Sep 2020 session of the parliament, which was manifestly unconstitutional, whatever the situation may be. The Charter of Tibetans in Exile mandate that the parliament should meet at least once every six months.

The Charter does not say what happens if a meeting is, or could not, be held within the above time limit. The parliament’s Standing Committee cited the Covid-19 restrictions as the reason for cancelling the meeting.

The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission took suo moto notice of the cancellation, calling it unconstitutional, and issued notice to the parliament’s Standing Committee, saying an online meeting could be held.

But the parliament’s Standing Committee stood by its decision, and the Supreme Justice Commission on Sep 25 imposed a limited penalty on its 11 members, including the Speaker, for being in violation of the Charter. They were deprived of their voting right till Mar 11, 2021, but not their right to stand for election.

The parliament’s Standing Committee rejected the decision, claiming the Supreme Justice Commission had no jurisdiction over it.

During the Dec 25 discussion of the motion for the removal of the three justice commissioners from their posts, Speaker Pema Jungney said there was no provision for holding online meeting and in any case physical presence was vital.

He also dismissed the Supreme Justice Commission’s power to act suo moto, insisting that it could not act without being approached by a party.

Actually, the Supreme Justice Commission had, in an Oct 2019 amendment to its code, vested power to take suo moto action in cases and this had been implemented from the time of the previous Chief Justice Commissioner.

And as required, the Supreme Justice Commission had forwarded a copy of the amendment for necessary action, if any, to the Secretariat of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile where it was seen sitting in a file when sought out by an MP during the parliament’s discussion of the motion. The Speaker simply said he was unware of it.

Sonam Norbu Dagpo called the power to take suo moto action an essential means for the justice commission to protect the charter and deliver justice without being marred by procedural handicaps.

He said no one, including the parliament, was above the law. He called the decision to remove him and his colleagues from office a dangerous precedent for which the Standing Committee members bore the historical responsibility.

During the parliament’s discussion of the motion, some members said the problem was with the laws and rules and they should be amended to avoid future problems without cracking the whip so harshly on the justice commissioners. But this did not impress the majority of the MPs who voted to sack the entire panel of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission by a majority of 31 to 10 votes with 4 absentees.

The sacking of the entire panel of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission threw up several technical problems, necessitating the holding of a May 2021 additional parliament session to deal with them. Otherwise, there will be no one to administer the oath of office to the new Sikyong after the ongoing election, for one thing.


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