His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, has graciously provided the modern democratic system of governance to the Tibetans in exile for their immediate and long-term welfare. With the evolution of the Tibetan democratic system of governance in exile, the 11th Tibetan parliament in exile passed the Charter of Tibetans in Exile in 1991. The Central Tibetan Administration in exile also consists of the three democratic pillars, namely the executive, legislature and judiciary. Whenever an issue of contention arises in the course of the Tibetan executive’s implementation of any rules and regulations, besides public and individual civil disputes among the Tibetan community in exile, the Tibetan judiciary (Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission and its subordinate Justice Commission) interprets or makes decisions thereof; thus protecting the rule of law by guaranteeing justice to all and making the institution of Tibetan democracy vibrant and meaningful.
The hierarchies of Tibetan Justice Commissions are as follows:
- Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission
- Tibetan Circuit Justice Commission
- Tibetan Local Justice Commission
Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission
The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is the highest judicial organ and one of the three most important pillars of the Tibetan democratic administration in exile or the Central Tibetan Administration. It formally came into existence as per the provision of the Charter of Tibetans in Exile on 11th March 1992 (the seventh day of the first month of the Tibetan Water-Monkey year, 2119) in Gangchen Kyishong, the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is composed of the Chief Justice Commissioner and two other Justice Commissioners. They are appointed by the Tibetan Parliament in exile through election out of nominated candidates submitted by the Selection Committee, which is constituted by a Committee of Chief Justice Commissioner, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Tibetan Parliament in exile and Kalon Tripa (Chief of the Kashag/Cabinet). In the past, the Chief Justice Commissioner and two other Justice Commissioners took the oath of office from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. However, since His Holiness’ devolution of all his political and administrative powers on 29th May 2011, the Chief Justice Commissioner is to take the oath of office from the out-going Chief Justice Commissioner or the officiating Chief Justice Commissioner. The two other Justice Commissioners are required to take the oath of office from the Chief Justice Commissioner.
Responsibility, Power and Jurisdiction of Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission
The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is the final Appellate Justice Commission in adjudicating and redressing any civil disputes of the Tibetan Community in exile on the basis of procedure enshrined in Tibetan rules and prevailing customs for the welfare and harmony of the Tibetan community in exile. It also has power and duty to formulate procedural rules and regulations as enshrined in the Charter of Tibetans in Exile. However, it has no authority and power to deal with criminal cases or any other objectionable cases relating to the laws of the host country. The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission has power to establish and dissolve any temporary and permanent Tibetan Local Justice Commission on the basis of needs for the concerned Tibetan community in the area. The Tibetan Local Justice Commission functions directly under the supervision of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission.
Since His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s unprecedented devolution of all His administrative and political powers to the elected political leadership of the Tibetans in exile on 29th May 2011, the judiciary has been empowered with new responsibilities and duties. For instance, the Chief Justice Commissioner has been entrusted with the supreme responsibility of administering the oath of office and secrecy to the executive (Kalon Tripa and Kalons), legislature (Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Interim Chairman of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile), judiciary (Justice Commissioners) and the Auditor General of the Central Tibetan Administration. Earlier all these top Tibetan officials took their oath of office and secrecy before His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Chief Justice Commissioner has now been entrusted with the new responsibility to also administer the oath of office and secrecy to the Chief Election Commissioner, two Additional Election Commissioners, Chairman of Public Service Commission and PSC Committee Members of the Central Tibetan Administration.
On 30th May 2011, the Chief Justice Commissioner Mr. Ngawang Phelgyal administered the oath of office to the recently constituted 15th Tibetan Parliament in exile’s Interim Chairman Mr. Pema Jungney. And on 31st May 2011, he administered the oath of office to the parliament’s elected Chairman Mr. Penpa Tsering and Deputy Chairman Ven. Khenpo Sonam Tenphel in the presence of two Justice Commissioners Mr. Ngawang Thupten and Mr. Tsering Dhondup and members of the Kashag headed by Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche.
On 8th August 2011 at a public function in Dharamsala, the newly-elected Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay was administered the oath of office and secrecy by the Chief Justice Commissioner Mr. Ngawang Phelgyal, for the first time in the history of Tibet and the Tibetan people, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Also present were Tibetan, Indian and international dignitaries. Then on 16th September 2011 the Chief Justice Commissioner administered the oath of office and secrecy to the other six Kalons in the presence of the two Justice Commissioners Mr. Ngawang Thupten and Mr. Tsering Dhondup, Chairman of Tibetan Parliament in exile Mr. Penpa Tsering, Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Deputy Chairman Ven. Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, Chairman of Election Commission Mr. Jampal Chosang and Auditor General Mr. Kargyu Dhondup. The oath taking ceremony took place in the hall of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission of Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala.Workshops and training
In addition to the primary responsibilities, the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission often organises legal awareness programmes for the general Tibetan public in Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal. TSJC also conducts intensive legal training for the Tibetan Local Justice Commissioners and legal secretaries (trim-drungs). Since its inception, three judicial conferences has also been organised to upgrade the functioning of Tibetan judicial system at various levels of the Tibetan community in exile.
The first Tibetan Lawyers Training was given in 1998. There is an urgent need for many trained Tibetan lawyers in the Tibetan community in exile. Lawyers play an important role in the lives of the people and community. As such it would be useful to have as many Tibetan lawyers so that ordinary and especially illiterate Tibetans can turn to them for advice and guidance in filing required litigations in Tibetan Local Justice Commissions. It is with this in mind that we have since 2010 provided intensive Tibetan lawyers training to participants from various Tibetan settlements and other areas where Tibetans reside. In 2010 we were able to organise one such Tibetan Lawyers Training and in 2011 we organised two Tibetan Lawyers Training. So far we have 76 registered Tibetan lawyers. It is a significant achievement. We have had good participation from concerned Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal to the three consecutive Tibetan Lawyers Training we have given. We will continue to make rigorous effort to provide more Tibetan Lawyers Training.
Rules and Regulations of Tibetan Justice Commission
The Code of Judiciary, Civil Procedure Codes and Rules of Evidence books were formulated by Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission and approved by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 28th of February 1996.
Tenure of Justice Commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission
The term of the Chief Justice Commissioner is for five years or 65 years of age, or whichever comes earlier. Also for the other two Justice Commissioners the retirement age is 65.