Introduction to the Bhutanese Legal system

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal promulgated the first set of Bhutanese laws and codification of these laws was completed in 1652 during the reign of the first temporal ruler, Deb Umzed Tenzin Drugyel. The Code was based closely on Buddhist principles and addressed the violation of both temporal and spiritual laws. These laws contain specific reference to the ten pious acts, known as Lhachoe Gyewa Chu and the sixteen virtuous acts of social piety, referred to as the Michoe Tsangma Chudrug.

The ten pious acts of virtues, Lhachoe Gyewa Chu, are:

  • Refraining from taking life - pranatighatad virati.
  • Refraining from taking that which is not given - adattadanad virati.
  • Refraining from engaging in sexual misconduct - kamamithyacarad virati./li>
  • Refraining from lying - mrsavadat prativirati.
  • Refraining from speaking harshly - parusat prativirati.
  • Refraining from slandering - paishunayatc prativirati.
  • Refraining from engaging in worthless chatter - sambhinnapralapat prativirati.
  • Refraining from being covetous - abhidhyayah prativirati.
  • Refraining from being malicious - vyapadat prativirati.
  • Refraining from holding wrong views - mithyadrsti prativirati.

These ten pious acts can broadly be divided into three categories of non-virtuous actions to be avoided and they are:

  • The three non-virtuous actions of body - truni kayaduscaritani.
  • The four non-virtuous actions of speech - catva vagduscaritani.
  • The three non-virtuous actions of mind - trini manoduscaritani.

By refraining from these negative actions, we behave in consonance with one of Buddha's approaches by which all sentient being can develop the means to attain enlightenment.

The sixteen virtuous acts of social piety, Michoe Tsangma Chudrug are:

  • Do not kill or steal;
  • Do not hold wrong views;
  • Do not go against the wishes of one's parents;/li>
  • Do not be disrespectful to elders, learned persons and leaders;
  • Do not harbour evil or ill thoughts towards family or friends;
  • Do not refrain from helping neighbours;
  • Do not be dishonest;
  • Do not follow bad examples;
  • Do not be greedy or selfish;
  • Do not inspire evil thoughts in others;/li>
  • Do not be late in repaying debts;
  • Do not cheat;
  • Do not act differently towards the rich and the poor, or those of high or low status;.
  • Do not listen to evil advice;
  • Do not be deceitful; and
  • Do not be short-tempered or lose one's patience.

In the Bhutanese legal system, the spiritual laws are said to resemble a silken knot (dargye duephue). The silken knot is light and loose at first but gradually tightens with the accumulation of negative deeds. Similarly, secular laws are compared to a golden yoke (sergyi nyashing) that grows heavier and heavier with the degree of the crimes committed.

The Zhabdrung's Code serves as the foundation of the contemporary Bhutanese legal system. Although the Code was amended several times over the centuries, it continues to uphold the principles of Buddhism and natural justice set out by Zhabdrung. As the Bhutanese legal system has evolved over time, it has continued to reflect the culture and lifestyle of the Bhutanese people, whilst ensuring that the stream of justice remains clear and pure.


In all societies, the law gives form and direction to the social world. It represents the solemn will of the legislature for the common good. Pelgoen Phagpa Lhuedrup, a famous Buddhist philosopher, wrote, "As the earth is to living and non-living entities, law is to human beings." Laws can be classified into two categories:

  • Rangzhin gi thrim - Natural Laws.
  • Chay pai thrim - Positive Laws.

In general, positive laws are based on the following principles:

  • Thri Tse Bum Zher (separation of power and responsibility).
  • Gyalkhab Paer Lang Ki thrim (obedience to laws).
  • Do laen Zhi Chi Gi thrim (fair trial).
  • Wangchen Chay ki Chathrim (adjudication by due process).
  • Khabso Lang Pai thrim (equal justice without discrimination).
  • Bum Ser Thog Shawa Chen gi thrim (weights and measures - fair trade).

Thrimzhung Chhenmo

In 1959, the National Assembly, under the guidance of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck enacted the first comprehensive codified law code, the Thrimzhung Chhenmo or the Supreme Law.

The Thrimzhung Chhenmo covers almost all civil and criminal matters and includes sections on land law, marriage, inheritance, weights and measures, theft and murder. Although many of the chapters have been amended by subsequent legislation, the Thrimzhung Chhenmo is considered to be the basis for all the subsequent laws enacted in Bhutan.