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Thai legal system in need of overhaul

Publication Date : 10-08-2012

 

Over the past few years the campaign against "double standards" in the legal system has triggered great social and political division in Thailand.

But a recent seminar on the justice system reveals that, rather than a double standard, the system may suffer from having no standard whatsoever. This has become increasingly apparent due to the country's failure to embrace legal reform.

Some people in influential positions are not afraid to challenge the law because the punitive measures are too lax. Punishments here do not serve the purpose of deterring or redeeming wrongdoers and criminals.

Worse, as we have witnessed recently, some correctional facilities are riddled with irregularities and corruption, resulting in prisoners having easy access to phones and drugs even though they're behind bars.

The lax enforcement of legal measures has made ordinary people lose trust in the system. If members of the public believe they cannot rely on legal institutions, they will eventually take to the streets to demand change.

Another problem here is that the prosecution period in each case is too prolonged, and more often than not fails to bring people to justice. Fines and other punitive measures for some offences are too low to scare some people off.

Few punitive measures have been adjusted since 1957. According to Thailand Development Research Institute vice president Somkiat Tangkitvanich, minimum fines for many offences have remained between 100 baht and 1,000 baht (US$3 to $31) for the past five decades, in spite of rising inflation. "Some may say we have two standards of fines, but in reality we don't have any standard at all," he said.

The Thai legal system has to be reformed urgently because current measures are lagging behind the rapid changes in social evolution.

In addition, the authorities must better incorporate preventative policies against corruption in the legal system in order to enhance public trust. The full accountability of institutions including the police, prosecutors, the corrections system and lawyers is necessary to ensure social order, because people always turn to these institutions first to solve conflicts. The long-term danger is of anarchy if the accountability of these institutions cannot be guaranteed.

As things stand now, Thailand has an ineffectual penalty structure in which violators have nothing to fear if they're caught. Ironically, not even imprisonment is a real deterrent. Many people repeat the same offences after they're released from jail.

The government spends a massive amount on accommodating prison inmates because other penal options have not fully materialised. The number of inmates in Thailand has increased 38 per cent, from 180,000 in 2008 to 250,000 this year, according to the TDRI. Some jail sentences should be replaced by serious monetary penalties. If the authorities continue to use imprisonment as the only option to punish convicted criminals, they'll have to deal with overcrowded prisons by seeking more royal pardons or reducing jail terms.

Meanwhile the bail system should be fair to all. Courts should grant bail bonds according to the level of income of the accused. The accused should be assured the right to fair bail to protect individual freedom - at a fair price.

More importantly, the public should be sufficiently informed of legal procedures and their rights. At a minimum they should be informed of the organisations where they can seek advice in order to receive justice. For instance, the bail system was initiated to protect those charged with a crime. This should be available to all people, no matter their income level.

The poor should be able to seek bail while they wait to defend themselves in court. If this right is not made universal, people will question why a poor man is denied the right to return home before a trial, while a rich man can go home simply because he finds it easy to place a bail bond.

 

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