Representatives of NGOs and legal entities reported that police and security officers sometimes torture suspects to obtain confessions. Human rights groups also reported that government officials filed frivolous lese majeste and sedition charges against protest leaders and journalists.
Litigation in Thailand is typically a lengthy and time-consuming process. To address this issue, the Law on the Timeframe for Judicial Proceedings was enacted in October 2022 and came into effect on 23 January 2023.
In Thailand, judges and not juries try cases. Courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate all civil and criminal matters based on law. Judges are independent in adjudicating cases and may use their discretion to determine guilt or innocence, as well as to decide on the punishment for a defendant.
The Courts of First Instance consist of general courts,(2) juvenile and family courts and specialized courts.(3) The Supreme (Dika) Court has the final authority over all appeals against judgments of the Courts of First Instance and specialized courts.
The Supreme Court’s judgments become precedents for the lower courts to follow. Its role is to ensure that all laws are in accordance with the Constitution and public interest. It also acts as the protector of the rights and liberties of the people and the maintainer of a democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State. In interpreting the Constitution, the Court has been creative in mobilising constitutional interpretation techniques such as originalism and legal history.
There are three levels of courts in Thailand: the Courts of First Instance, Appeals Court and Supreme Court. Parties who are unhappy with a decision at the lower level can appeal to the higher court.
Court proceedings in Thailand are conducted in the Thai language and pleadings must be submitted in that language. Testimony and documentary evidence must also be translated into Thai before they can be presented in court.
The Appeals Court handles cases decided by the lower courts, such as the District and Provincial Courts. In addition, the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over all cases decided by the First Instance and Regional Appeal Courts located in Bangkok and the Specialized Appeal Court for a Case.
The Constitutional Court has garnered an ambivalent international reputation for its de facto dissolution of opposition political parties and cancelling of general elections in the name of protecting democracy. More recently, it has been tasked with validating organic acts (rules of near-constitutional value placed above legislation in the hierarchy of norms) by the junta.
Filing a Case
The legal process in Thailand begins with a private individual or company submitting a complaint to the police or directly to the court. If the complaint is criminal, the court will conduct a preliminary “investigative” hearing to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the case for a full trial.
The central and nine regional courts of appeal review the judgments of the First Instance and Specialized Courts, respectively, to reaffirm, dismiss, or reverse those decisions. The Supreme Court, located in Bangkok, hears appeals of cases that are not within the jurisdiction of the other two courts, or those involving a matter of national importance.
As a general rule, criminal defamation cases are filed by companies who allege that a public figure has slandered or libelled them. Defamation is punishable by imprisonment and large fines, as it violates lese majeste laws. Moreover, it can lead to civil damages claims which involve civil litigation procedures.
The Judge presiding over the trial makes all determinations of guilt or innocence, and also determines punishment. Unlike most countries in the world where criminal trials have a jury, Thai trials are conducted without one.
The court in a district where an offence is committed, alleged, or believed to have been committed, or where an accused resides or is arrested, has jurisdiction over the case. In addition, the Central Bankruptcy Court, the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, the Central Taxation Court, and the Central Labor Court are centralized courts with national jurisdiction.
In 2019 the criminal court dismissed a four-year-old lese majeste case against Patnaree Chankit, mother of political activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, after finding her one-word reply to a question in a Facebook chat critical of the monarchy was not an offense. Nonetheless, many rights activists continue to face charges related to their demonstrations. Security forces have been reported visiting or surveilling the homes of protest leaders and harassing them in other ways.