The Supreme Court is caught up in an unwitting dispute with the Fine Arts Department and all sorts of professional and amateur conservationists and Facebook followers over its questionable decision to demolish its 70-year old courthouse in order to build a new and more modern structure.
Demolition of the Supreme Court building will take just four months unless conservationists and the Fine Arts Department can bring it to a sudden halt. CHATRI PRAKITNONTHAKAN
In this country, it is widely said that it is unwise to have a problem with the police or the judiciary because they are the law enforcement officers and you can face undesirable consequences.
But Fine Arts Department chief Sahawat Naenna thinks otherwise.
Leading the legal battle against the high court in order to preserve the buildings, which are of historic and archaeological signifance, Mr Sahawat lodged a complaint with the Chanasongkram police on Saturday to put a hold on the demolition work, which began on Dec 25 and is continuing.
He said he had earlier told a representative of the Supreme Court there were two buildings in the court compound close to Klong Lod which could not be demolished or modified without the Fine Arts Department's permission because they are classified as "historical buildings".
Even though the cabinet as well as the Rattanakosin Island sub-committee had earlier given the green light to the Supreme Court to go ahead with the construction of a new four-storey Thai-style traditional building, the Fine Arts Department has suggested to the judiciary that the new building should not be too high because the courthouse is close to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
But despite this warning and suggestion, there has been no response from the court and the demolition has gone ahead.
Why do the buildings, which are only 70 years old, have such historical and archaeological value that they are worthy of preservation?
The complex was constructed during the government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibulsonggram in order to commemorate the "independence of the Thai court".
It marked a break with the Bowring treaty, signed in 1855 during the reign of King Rama IV with western colonalists which had effectively ceded extraterritorial jurisdiction to foreigners.
The Supreme Court building complex, which comprises three main buildings forming a V shape, was designed by a Thai architect by the name of Phra Sarojrattananimman (Saroj Sukhayang), who graduated in architecture in England.
The design of the building complex was influenced by western architecture and carried with it a political connotation of the role played by the Kana Rasadorn (the People's Party) in the political upheaval in 1932.
The six main pillars at the entrance of the Supreme Court are in reference to the Kana Rasadorn's six principles: independence, safety, economy, equality, freedom and education.
The first two buildings were opened for use on June 24, 1943, to mark the transformation of Thailand from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
Construction of the third building began after the end of World War II and was completed in 1963.
Chatri Prakitnonthakarn, a lecturer in architecture at Silpakorn University, last month posted on Facebook his criticisms of the Supreme Court's decision to demolish the courthouse.
He said the demolition amounts to destruction of the artistic and architectural heritage of the Kana Rasadorn and destruction of a memorial of Thai court sovereignty.
He also disclosed that the new court building would be a towering 32m high, or about 10 storeys, double the height permissable by law in the inner Rattanakosin area.
What is more interesting and debatable about his argument against the Supreme Court's decision is that the court is applying double standards, which will set a bad precedent for others in the area.
It is not very often _ indeed rare _ that the judiciary is caught in the public limelight, and this time not in a positive light.
Keeping their silence will not make the controversy go away and be forgotten, especially with the today's online social network phenomenon, on which news spreads like wildfire.
As some buildings have already been torn down and the damage already done, how about halting the demolition now and all sides in the dispute can sit down together and discuss what can be done to save the rest.
Judges of the Supreme Court are mostly in their 50s and older and, I believe, are Facebook fans.
But this time it is they who will have to listen to the judgement of others, because their reputation is at stake.
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor