Thai society needs to resurrect the question of coup-related legal consequences, particularly those undermining respect for people's rights, scholars and progressive red-shirt and Nitirat members told a university forum.
They also challenged long-embedded conventions they said suppress the virtues of a citizen's rights when standing before the courts of justice.
Worachet Pakeerut (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Worachet Pakeerut, Thammasat University associate law professor, said judges must learn to open their minds and accommodate the democratic rules of the rights of the people.
Mr Worachet, a core member of the Nitirat (Enlightened Jurists) group, was speaking at a forum themed "Thai Court and the (In)justice in Thai Society - Lese Majeste Verdicts" organised by the Campaign Committee for Article 112 Amendment (CCAA) and its network at Thammasat University on Sunday.
The courts, Mr Worachet said, need to realise that they have a connection with and receive legitimacy from the public, not other institutions.
Among his suggestions was a change to the usual ending of a written motion submitted to the court by an attorney, which conventionally ends with the phrase "Upon your benevolence, please. Your Honour."
Mr Worachet recommended that the final paragraph be changed to, "Kindly be informed so and adjudicate to serve the interests of law and justice."
"With that, hopefully, the culture and the procedures the court has long been familiar with will be changed to bring them more in line with democratic principles," said the Thammasat University scholar.
Nidhi Eosriwong, historian and independent scholar, said justice in Thai society was defined by the ruling power and neglects the freedoms and liberty of the people.
Lawyers who uphold democratic principles had a tough job interpreting and applying the core principles, said Mr Nidhi.
"Judges and lawyers should stay afloat and lend their ears to what society is caring about and advocating. The court and all parties involved need to show that they are part of and acting in line with the democratic forces that are striving in our society," the Chiang Mai-based intellectual said.
He agreed with Mr Worachet's views on judges' independence. Their presence and authority should be rooted by the people's endorsement.
The audience at the "Thai Court and the (In)justice in Thai Society - Lese Majeste Verdicts" forum listens closely to a speaker at Thammasat University on Sunday. (Photo by Wasin Pathomyok)
Sawatree Suksri, a Thammasat University law lecturer, said the post-coup judgements and behaviour of the judges on politically motivated cases were questionable.
The controversial lese majeste rulings, Ms Sawatree said, included Ampon Tangnoppakul's 20-year term of imprisonment and the 10-year sentence for Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.
The Ampon verdict showed the judge had little regard for the principle of a defendant being innocent until proven guilty, while the ruling in the Somyot case put too much weight on prosecution testimony, said Ms Sawatree, a member of the Nitirat group.
She said the constitutional right to temporary release had not been heeded or applied to lese majeste detainees like Ampon and Somyot.
"Uncle SMS" Ampon had applied unsuccessfully for bail seven times, United States citizen Joe Gordon applied eight times, and Somyot 13 times, she said.
The judiciary had stayed undemocratically aloof and above public scrutiny for a long time, she added.
The CCAA issued a statement at the end of the seminar, challenging judicial judgements that cause public mistrust and saying that judges have upheld the coup-installed guidelines rather than universal human rights principles.
The statement, read to an audience of hundreds in Sriburapa Hall, inside the Thaprachan Campus by former deputy supreme court judge Sathit Pairoh, said the Constitution Court, the Courts of Justice and the Administrative Court had made adjudications relating to the 2006 coup which did not convince the public that the law had been invoked and interpreted in conformity with the principles of democratic rule.
The public, the statement said, feels distrust towards the judiciary because arbitrary orders issued by coup-makers have been stipulated and enforced in various court rulings, even though the coup-makers are no longer in power.
"The judiciary is deemed complicit to an attempt to purge democratically elected civilian governments," said the statement. Various rulings made in relation to the Sept 19, 2006 coup not only compromise democratic principles, they also yielded concrete benefits to certain individuals and political groups.
The courts also claim the rulings and decisions as legal precedents, while ignoring the fact that the rulings and decisions were based on the illegitimate and undemocratic usurpation of power.
They also cited controversial court decisions that indicate how laws can be retrospectively applied in the disservice of a person, or even the over-interpretation of criminal provisions or the invocation of other irrelevant laws simply to hold a person liable.
The invocation of such rulings and decisions had given rise to unabated conflict in Thailand. Such conflicts would not have come about had the judiciary faithfully invoked and interpreted the law according to democratic values and refused to enforce the coup-installed orders and rulings, the statement said.