The attempted suicide by a senior judge in Yala is a wakeup call for the judiciary to eradicate what appears to be an unspoken anomaly in the legal system.
Khanakorn Pianchana, a senior judge at the Yala provincial court, on Oct 4 pulled out a pistol and shot himself in the chest while in the courtroom. He committed the act -- which shocked the nation -- after delivering a verdict that acquitted a group of five Muslim suspects in a security case in the absence of hard evidence.
The judge was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery. Currently in the intensive care unit, his condition is said to be stable.
In an apparent bid to downplay the controversy and quell public scepticism, the spokesman for the Office of the Judiciary said Judge Khanakorn's extreme act was caused by stress related to "personal issues". Such an explanation directly contradicts what has been alleged to be a statement written by Mr Khanakorn citing interference by the regional justice chief in the case. Mr Khanakorn's innocent verdict and attempted suicide have been interpreted as a protest against these judicial irregularities; a cry for help.
In the 25-page statement he purportedly posted on his Facebook page, the embattled judge described disagreements among senior judges over the ruling. According to the judge's statement, senior judges insisted the five be found guilty which would have resulted in three receiving death sentences, and the remaining life imprisonment. In making a ruling against the regional chief judges' advice, Mr Khanakorn said he was well aware that he would face disciplinary action and his future would be doomed.
The statement, a typical court document that would be issued to the media after the verdict is made, was widely circulated on social media before it mysteriously disappeared with public curiosity escalating.
Subsequently, attempts have emerged from some quarters to politicise the matter, with a few observers trying to link the judge with an opposition party. These appear to be cynical attempts to discredit the distraught judge and are unfortunate as they divert public attention from the real problem.
Therefore, the promise by the Office of the Judiciary to investigate the matter is most welcome. Initially, the office insisted that advice from regional justice chiefs is permissible under the current laws. However, the law requires transparency in the process to ensure such "advice" is not wrongful interference.
The allegations made by Mr Khanakorn, if true, show how the legal system is in dire need of an overhaul.
In fact, the suicide drama only adds to the fact that the judiciary has been rocked by quite a few controversies in recent years.
Many may remember a case of a father jumping to his death at the Criminal Court building after becoming overwhelmed by perceived "injustice" when those he believed responsible for his son's murder, who were said to have good connections, were freed by the judge. Before his suicide, he complained bitterly about missing evidence, a flawed police investigation process and the unhelpful work of public prosecutors that contributed to the controversial verdict.
The father's death triggered a massive debate about a failed legal system leading to promises by those involved to look into reforms in the system -- promises that ultimately appeared to go nowhere.
Mr Khanakorn's suicide drama also highlights another fact about the ongoing violence in the restive southern region -- that it is an extremely complicated issue which can easily result in innocent people being wrongly punished or scapegoated. When that is the case, such injustice only fuels resentment among the Muslim majority and hinders state attempts to bring peace to the troubled region.
Given the fact Mr Khanakorn's attempt on his own life has damaged the institution, the Office of the Judiciary should realise that public scrutiny will be intense. It must objectively pursue the investigation while guaranteeing Mr Khanakorn the justice he fully deserves. Anything less than this will only cause further damage to the reputation and integrity of the system.
Those involved in the probe should ensure that fairness and transparency are the only remedies, not just for the embattled judge or other individual judiciary officers, but for the legal system as a whole.