Justice system reform | Bangkok Post: learning

LEARNING

Learning > Learning From News

Justice system reform

- +

Magsaysay laureate Jon Unphakorn on the hidden inequities in Thailand's legal system.

Jon Ungphakorn

The article below does not include everything in the original article. The full version can be found here.

Click button to listen to Legal System Reform and rightclick to download

Can we make our justice system accountable to people? by Jon Ungphakorn


How would you rate our justice system on a scale of 0-10 in view of the following facts.

1. No one has been brought to justice for the extra-judicial killings of at least 2,000 people (1,300 according to the US State Department) in the 2003 "war on drug." 

2. On May 30, 2009, a court inquest ruled that no one was to blame for the deaths of 85 of the 1,500 peaceful demonstrators on Oct 25, 2004 at Tak Bai, 78 of whom suffocated after being bound and stacked on top of one another in army trucks for several hours.

3. "No soldier has ever been prosecuted for abducting, torturing or extra-judicially killing Muslims in the South." (Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, on the torture and death of Imam Yapa Koseng while in military detention during March 20-21, 2008).

The fact is that in Thailand it is practically impossible to bring to justice any high-ranking official for crimes relating to corruption, abuse of power, or abuse of human rights.

With such overwhelming impunity there is no incentive for law enforcement officials to pay attention to civilised or ethical standards of behaviour towards suspects, nor for politicians to keep away from personal enrichment.

While the rich and powerful enjoy their immunity to the justice system, our prisons are grossly overcrowded with over 160,000 inmates, the vast majority of whom are from low-income families and have been convicted of petty crimes such as gambling, drug abuse, petty theft, purchasing stolen goods, etc.

For the poor facing criminal trial, conviction is almost a certainty as they don't usually have access to proper legal representation and are generally advised by their court-appointed lawyers to plead guilty so as to be eligible for leniency.

I haven't been able to find any direct figures for conviction rates by the criminal courts, but in 2007 a total of 498,576 criminal court cases were completed, from which 641,681 defendants were convicted.

Interestingly, while the numbers of people convicted by the criminal court rose only slightly from 2006 to 2007 (from 620,957 in 2006 to 641,681 in 2007), the numbers sentenced to prison rose from 65,787 (10.59%) in 2006 to 102,178 (15.92%) in 2007.

At the same time, the number of people sentenced to death more than tripled from 302 to 963.

I think that the courts should explain these phenomena to the public. Was there some kind of "new policy" directive? From whom?...

...I think we have to admit that Thailand's justice system is in pretty bad shape, and by that I am referring to the whole system - from investigation to prosecution to court trial.

In practice, the system is highly discriminatory as it is impotent in dealing with "state" criminals, while it metes out factory-like punishment to the poor.

There is no equality before the law in accordance with the principles of our constitution..

What can be done to rectify the situation.

I have only a few suggestions.

With respect to investigation, we really need to make a complete overhaul of the Department of Special Investigation and make it an independent agency, immune from political interference but accountable to Parliament.

The DSI should also be devoid of any former police officials, and instead be staffed by competent recruits trained by foreign agencies in case management, forensics and investigative techniques

What can be done to reform the police? 

This is a pretty hopeless task. The best that can be hoped for is structural decentralisation into local forces supervised by local administrations and, if possible, closely monitored by local community organisations.

We need to have really effective witness protection programmes and to provide adequate financial rewards and special immunity to whistle-blowers on cases of official corruption and abuse of power.

Finally, we really need to make the courts accountable to the public.

I would like to see the introduction of a jury system, although most legal experts would disagree with me, arguing that Thai juries could easily be bought.

But most urgent and important is the need to reform the Contempt of Court Law, so that the media can report in detail on court proceedings, and so that both the public and the media can freely discuss and comment on court rulings.

Hopefully we will be seeing much more discussion on how our system of "justice" can be reformed and made accountable to society.

Jon Ungphakorn is a human rights and social activist, winner of the 2005 Magsaysay Award and a former elected senator for Bangkok.

(Source: Bangkok Post, Can we make our justice system accountable to people, 23/03/2011, Jon Ungphakorn, link

Ramon Magsaysay Award -
every year prizes are presented to Asian individuals and organizations in recognition for achieving excellence in their respective fields: Government Service, Public Service, Community Leadership, Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, Peace and International Understanding, and Emergent Leadership (See Wikipedia and website)
laureate - a person who has won a prize

Jon Unphakorn - "(Thai จอน อึ๊งภากรณ์, born September 19, 1947) is a London-born Thai non-governmental organization (NGO) executive and member of the Senate of Thailand...of Chinese-Thai and British parentage. His father was the revered Dr Puey Ungpakorn" (See Wikipedia)

Law Vocabulary 

police force - a police organization (local, provincial or national; including all the police officers along with the structure of ranks and responsibilities)
investigation - the process of trying to find out all the details or facts about something in order to discover who or what caused it or how it happened การตรวจสอบหาข้อเท็จจริง
enforcement - making sure a law is obeyed and punishing people if it is not obeyed บังคับใช้กฎหมาย
law enforcement - police activities, the process of investigating crimes, finding the people who broke the law and starting the legal process to punish them (See Wikipedia)
forensics - scientific methods used to solve crimes and find out who committed them

inquest - coroner's inquest, an official attempt by a court or a special group of people to determine the cause of someone's death (See Wikipedia)
prosecute - start a criminal legal case against a person (to prove that they broke the law and punish them if they did)
prosecution - formally charging someone with a crime and putting them on trial, the person or organisation that tries to prove in court that someone has committed a crime อัยการ

theft - (the act of) dishonestly taking something which belongs to someone else and keeping it การลักขโมย
extra-judicial killings - when people are killed without arrest or trial by police or the military (acting as judge, jury and executioner)
abduct - to take a person away from their home and ffamily by force, kidnap
torture - to cause great physical or mental pain to someone intentionally ทรมานให้เจ็บปวด

legal representation - a lawyer (to defend you against criminal charges in a court of law)
appoint -
put someone in some position (in an organization, in some legal process, etc) 
court-appointed lawyers - free lawyers that a court gives to a person to defend them in a criminal trial (because they are not rich enough to hire one themselves)

trial - the process of examining a case in a court of law and deciding whether someone is guilty (having committed a crime) or innocent (not having committed a crime) การไต่สวนคดี
court proceedings - all the sessions of a court while they are handling and making a decision on a legal case
court rulings
- a decision made by a court in a legal case

contempt of court -
when a court declares that a person or organization has disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority during a court trial or hearing, an punishes the offender with a fine or imprisonment (See Wikipedia)
jury
- a group of people who have been chosen to listen to all the facts in a trial in a law court and to decide whether a person is guilty or not guilty, or whether a claim has been proved คณะลูกขุน

witness - a person who sees something happen or knows about something, who tells a court what they know about a crime ผู้ที่เห็นเหตุการณ์, พยาน
witness protection programmes -

guilty (adjective) - proven to have committed a crime, having been decided by a court of law that you committed the crime your were accused of มีความผิด
guilt (noun) - the state or condition of a person being guilty
plead guilty - when a criminal says or admits guilt (usually in exchange for lighter punishment)

conviction - when someone is officially found to be guilty of a particular crime การพิสูจน์ว่ากระทำผิด
convicted - having been proven guilty of a crime by a court of law ได้รับการพิสูจน์ว่ามีความผิดจริง
convicted - proven in a court of law to have committed a crime การกระทำผิดกฎหมาย
conviction rates - the percentage of cases that go to trial that are found guilty

mete out punishment to Y -
punish person Y
sentenced to prison - punishment of staying in prison for a period of time (after guilt for a crime established)
sentenced to death - punishment of being killed by the state as punishment for a crime
leniency (adjective) - giving someone less punishment than they could receive

detention - forced officially to stay in a place การกักตัว
inmates -
convicted crimimals living in a prison (as punishment for crime)

justice - when people are treated fairly and equally
bring to justice - punish someone who has broken the law (who deserves punishment but may escape from punishment because of their power)
discriminatory (adjective) - treat one group of people less fairly than another group of people (a condition when there is no justice)

equity - fair, reasonable and equal treatment of all people
inequity - treatment that is not fair, equal or reasonable

constitution - a set of basic rules for a country's government and laws along with citizen rights that must be respected and enforced, the fundamental political principles of a government (See Wikipedia) รัฐธรรมนูญ

Other Vocabulary

accountable
- responsible for something that has happened, have to explain what you did, reward for success, punishment for failure, cannot just act independently the way you want all the time
rate - to judge how good something is (to give a score that measures the goodness of something so that it can be compared with other things)
scale - size (relative size)

demonstrators
- people who march with other people in public to show that they support or oppose something ผู้ชุมนุมประท้วง
suffocate - die because there is not enough oxygen getting into the body through the lungs, also called "asphyxia" (See Wikipedia)
bind
(verb, present tense) - tie up, tie cord or rope around someone so that they cannot move freely (example: bind a prisoner to prevent flight) มัดไว้, รัด
bound (verb, past tense)
stack (noun) - a pile, many things put on top of each other (to save space) กอง, กองที่ซ้อนกัน, กองสิ่งของที่ซ้อนกันอยู่
stack (verb) - to place one thing on top of another thing many times (to save space)

official - approved by the government or some authority ที่เป็นทางการ
high-ranking official - a very high level official in the government, a powerful official 
corruption - (See Wikipedia on bribery, corporate corruption, and political corruption)

abuse - to use or treat someone or something wrongly or badly, especially in a way that is to your own advantage ใช้ในทางที่ผิด
power - the ability to control people and events อำนาจ
abuse of power - when a person uses their power in an illegal or immoral way (to gain some personal advantage or benefit, for example)
rights - what the law or morals allows you to have and do สิทธิ์ (See Wikipedia)
human rights - the basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law (See Wikipedia)

impunity -
freedom from any risk of being punished when you break the law or do something wrong
overwhelming impunity - impunity in very large amounts (that cannot be accepted)
incentive - reward to encourage certain behaviour, a reward to encourage people to act in certain ways สิ่งกระตุ้น

ethical - morally acceptable, right action
standards - a rule for behaving which should be obeyed มาตรฐาน, บรรทัดฐาน, กฎเกณฑ์, กรอบ
standards - an acceptable level of quality or achievement มาตรฐาน
suspects - people who may have committed the crime, identified by the police ผู้ต้องสงสัย
personal enrichment - getting rich, making money for yourself

immunity - a situation in which someone is not affected by something because they have a special position or job ได้รับการพิทักษ์ คุ้มกัน
grossly overcrowded - very overcrowded and very bad, many more people in the prison than can safely live there

vast
- very large, of great size ส่วนใหญ่
majority - more than 50 percent of a group ส่วนมาก, สียงส่วนมาก
vast majority - much more than a majority (50%), probably somewhere between 80% and 90% (See article)
low-income families - poor people (people who do not make a lot of money in their work)
income - money that people receive from work or some other source, used for household consumption and savings
petty -
small, not serious
gambling - the activity of betting money, for example in a game or on a horse race การพนัน

access - the right or opportunity to have or use something ได้รับสิทธิ์หรือโอกาสในการใช้
proper - actual or real จริง (พระราชพิธีพระราชทานเพลิงพระศพจริง)
eligible - meet the conditions needed for doing something ซึ่งมีคุณสมบัติเหมาะสม
figures - statistics = numbers that measure something
direct figures - statistics that are reported by some official organization
indirect figures -
estimating or guessing what the statistics might by looking at some other statistic (proxy) (when there are no official statistics)

phenomena - a thing that is happening
policy - a set of plans or action agreed on by a government, political party, business, or other group นโยบาย (See Wikipedia)
directive - an official order คำสั่ง

admit - to agree that something is true, especially when you are unhappy, sorry or surprised about it ยอมรับ
in bad shape - not in good condition, has many problems, does not function correctly or properly
in pretty bad shape - condition is not very good
referring to Y - the thing I am talking about is Y

practice - a way of doing something การปฏิบัติ
in practice... -  as it actually works (not "in theory" according to the ideas of how it should work)

impotent - without power to control events, powerless
state - government รัฐ
equality - the state of being equal, especially in having the same rights, status and opportunities ความเสมอภาค
in accordance with Y - following or obeying Y
principles - the basic rules (of some activity or event) กฎระเบียบเบื้องต้น

rectify - correct, make right, solve problems and correct errors
rectify the situation. - solve the problems in the situation

With respect to - in the area of..., in the subject or topic of..., regarding...
overhaul - check,  make repairs on and rebuild every part of a machine or system, to revamp; to improve something so that every part of it works properly ปรับปรุงใหม่
independent - free from outside influence เป็นอิสระ

immune - cannot be affected or influenced by
interference - the process of deliberately becoming involved in a situation and trying to influence the way that it develops การเข้าแทรกแซง
immune from political interference - politicians are not controlling or influencing the way it works (for their own personal gain)

devoid of Y - does not have any Y at all
staffed by Y - Y are the people who work for the organization
competent - able to do a job correctly, efficiently, and effectively

recruit - a new member of an organization or company คนใหม่, พนักงานใหม่
investigative - involving the process of trying to find out all the details or facts about something in order to discover who or what caused it or how it happened เกี่ยวกับการสืบสวน, เกี่ยวกับการตรวจสอบหาความจริง
techniques - methods of doing a task or activity เทคนิค
reform - improvement, changes to correct a situation that is wrong or unfair การแก้ไข การปฏิรูป

task - a piece of work that someone does  หน้าท
pretty hopeless task - not likely to happen, not likely to succeed if undertaken, not likely to be successful
decentralisation - the process of moving the control of an organisation or government from a single place to several smaller ones การกระจายอำนาจ

local
- in or related to the small area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about ท้องถิ่น
local forces - local police forces

supervised
- overseen; watched over to ensure that things are done correctly อยู่ในการควบคุมดูแล
local administrations - local governments
monitored - watch carefully what is happening, to make sure everything goes well เฝ้าระวัง
effective - works well, produces intended results, gets the job done ได้ผลดี

provide - to give someone something that they want or need
adequate - good enough or large enough for a particular purpose พอเพียง

provide adequate financial rewards - provide enough money as a reward (to whistleblowers to encourage more whistleblowing)
immunity -
protection (here: from prosecution of the whistle blower themselves)
whistle-blower - someone who reports dishonest or illegal activities within an organization to someone in authority (See Wikipedia)

accountable to the public - must explain everything they do to the public and get their approval (the public is their boss)
urgent - needing to be dealt with immediately ที่เร่งด่วน

activist - someone who takes part in activities that are intended to achieve political or social change, especially someone who is a member of an organisation นักกิจกรรม, ผู้ดำเนินการที่มีความกระตือรือร้น

RELATED STORIES

0 people commented about the above

Readers are urged not to submit comments that may cause legal dispute including slanderous, vulgar or violent language, incorrectly spelt names, discuss moderation action, quotes with no source or anything deemed critical of the monarchy. More information in our terms of use.

Please use our forum for more candid, lengthy, conversational and open discussion between one another.

  • Latest
  • Oldest
  • Most replied to
  • Most liked
  • Most disliked

    Click here to view more comments

    Over 100,000 stock images of Bangkok Post editorial photography available now in high resolution images.