'Rule of law' needs teeth, experts stress

Legal experts yesterday stressed the importance of judicial independence as vital to the rule of law.

The experts made their view clear at a seminar organised by the government-appointed Independent National Rule of Law Commission, headed by Ukrit Mongkolnavin.

Kumchai Jongjakapun, a member of the commission, said in recent years there have been widespread calls for the rule of law, but no consensus on what that meant.

Section 3 of the 2007 constitution recognises the rule of law but did not explain what it is, he said.

A sub-committee of the commission proposes that judicial independence be regarded as a key characteristic of the rule of law, he said.

Constitution Court judge Jaran Pukditanakul said that to sustain the rule of law, judges must be free of political and social pressure.

The rule of law must be maintained to protect civil liberties, and those who breach it should face legal punishment, he said.

PM's Office permanent secretary Thongthong Chandarangsu said the rule of law cannot exist without the independence of the judiciary.

He said an independent judiciary would keep law enforcement in check.

"In Thai society, police are intimidated by rich and powerful people. So those without money and social status are unfortunate, he said. "Making sure that state officials don't abuse power will guarantee the people's civil liberties."

Sitthichok Sricharoen, a lawyer and law lecturer, said the judiciary should scrutinise how the government uses its powers.

Nanthawat Borommanant, a Chulalongkorn University law lecturer, said the term "rule of law" has been widely used by various groups of people to justify their actions, especially after the Sept 19, 2006 coup.

He said the principle of the rule of law is to put in place a system that holds the state to account for the way it exercises laws, for example by empowering people to take legal action against the state.

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Writer: Manop Thip-Osod
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