Upon invitation of the Supreme Court, Justice Antonio Benjamin travelled to the capital city of Thimpu (Bhutan) at the end of October 2017. This was the first visit ever to Bhutan by a WCEL Chair, and despite its great biodiversity, there were no members of WCEL in the country until this visit.
Justice Antonio Benjamin, WCEL Chair, continued his outreach in Asia with a visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan from 27-30 November 2017. Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas - one of the most biodiverse regions in the world - and is a leader in the legal protection of the environment.This is reflected in the constitution stating that "Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom's natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation..." Furthermore, a separate article on the environment mandates that at least 60 percent of the country's land remain under forest cover for all time - with 72 percent currently conserved. This is reflected in more than 51 percent of country being managed as protected areas equating to more than 5 million acres. In addition to iconic mammals such as Bengal tigers, cloud leopards, red panda, and Asian elephants and rhinoceros, there are more than 770 species of bird and 5,400 species of plants occurring across Bhutan’s diverse biomes.
During his time in Thimpu, the Chair delivered a three-hour lecture at the Royal Court of Justice to an audience of judges from across the country. Additionally, he held meetings with members of the Supreme Court to discuss environmental law issues, explored cooperation through the Global Judicial Institute on Environment (GJIE), and received a copy of the book “Integrating Environment and Development in Bhutan” authored by Justice Kuenlay Tshering. The court is comprised of the Chief Justice serving a term of five years or until the age of 65 and four Associate Judges serving terms of ten years or until the age of 65. A further meeting took place with Dasho Chencho Norbu (Secretary) and Kunzang (Deputy Chief Legal Officer) of the Secretariat of the National Environment Commission. Lastly, the Chair was invited by Prof. Michael Peil (Vice Dean and Associate Professor of Law) to give a lecture to the first class of students at the Jigme Singye Wangchuk School of Law established in 2017, and the only law school in Bhutan. Outcomes of the mission included recruiting four justices of the Supreme Court and other legal experts to join WCEL, and a request to hold a three-day judicial capacity-building meeting in the country.