Justice system put on trial

Justice system put on trial

Following the much-publicised wrongful imprisonment claim by former schoolteacher Jomsap Saenmuangkhot, similar alleged "scapegoat" cases have recently come to light.

These miscarriage of justice claims have shed light on how botched our justice process is and how imprecise investigations and examinations of evidence by police, public prosecutors and the judiciary have resulted in devastating consequences for presumably innocent people.

Earlier this week, the Justice Ministry revealed the potentially wrongful conviction of a young motorcycle taxi driver who has served more than seven years in prison. Kanokphrom Khanritthi was sentenced to 23 years in jail for robbery and physical assault in 2008.

A probe by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) suggests that Kanokphrom was not the wrongdoer as the department believes it has tracked down the real culprit.

The police had charged Kanokphrom based on flimsy evidence which was casually assumed to match information provided by the victim: He was a teenager, his face looked similar to a sketch of the attacker and the stolen bike used in the robbery was still registered in his uncle's name.

The bike, in fact, had been sold three times but the new owners never re-registered it. The last owner even reported to the police that his bike had been stolen.

The case lays bare the shoddy investigation conducted by the police who should have made a decision to file charges based on more solid pieces of evidence, not when doubts still lingered.

The truth over the ownership of the bike and the identity of the attacker could also have been sought by public prosecutors and the courts. No stone should have been left unturned.

The case indicates that our entire justice system may have given more weight to claims and evidence presented by the authorities without effective cross-checking.

Now that the ministry is lending a hand to help Kanokphrom prove his innocence, an online petition initiated under the change.org website has gathered pace. More than 10,000 people have signed the petition calling on the DSI to re-investigate a case against four Myanmar nationals charged with stabbing 18-year-old student, Orawee Sampaotong, to death in Ranong in 2015. The case has gone to trial.

The relatives of the accused and representatives of human rights and lawyer groups have claimed the four men were tortured by police into confessing to the crime. The online petition points out several convincing reasons why pieces of evidence submitted by police are dubious.

As these new scapegoat cases come to light, the outcome of another court hearing has raised eyebrows in many quarters. On Wednesday, a court in Khon Kaen denied a seventh bail request for lese majeste suspect and student activist Jatupat "Pai Dao Din" Boonpattararaksa.

The denial came despite there being enough surety for Mr Jatupat along with assurances from well-respected figures that he would not try to flee justice.

He was the only person, among more than 2,800 people who shared a BBC Thai story deemed insulting to the monarchy on social media, to be charged with lese majeste and a computer crime.

Botched investigations by the Thai police are not new. There are many previous cases handled by them that ended in innocent people spending years in prison. While sloppy work by police was to blame, poor cross-checking of evidence and questioning of witnesses by prosecutors and the judiciary have further weakened the entire system. Wrongful convictions were handed down with beyond reasonable doubt never being considered. Many were denied the basic right to bail.

Unlike the rich and powerful, the poor and vulnerable usually have no financial means to afford lawyers and have to hope the system will work in their favour. Thais and foreigners living in the country need a more effective, transparent and accountable justice process, not a flawed and botched system.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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