Judge sackings send shockwaves across the benches

Judge sackings send shockwaves across the benches

It is being described as the biggest scandal in the history of the Thai judiciary. Four senior judges, including a former vice-president of the Supreme Court and a former president of the Appeals Court, have been sacked for gross disciplinary violations by the judicial committee.

Three other judges of the Appeals and Supreme courts were placed under probation and their salaries frozen without any chance of a raise for a certain period.

This story which is featured in Post Today Online has run up more than 85,000 hits and 12,500 shares in just two days since it was posted on Friday. It ranks as one of the top 10 online news stories of the week. There have been no comments, however, which is predictable.

According to Isra news agency, the seven senior judges were found guilty by the judicial committee of breaching regulations regarding bailing of defendants charged with rape and drugs trafficking.

The judicial committee did not name the seven judges, but Isra news agency managed to find out who they are, particularly the four who were sacked. Two of them have been denied their pensions.

Isra news agency reported that Ong-art Rojanasupot, a senior judge of the Supreme Court and former vice-president of the Supreme Court, and Singpol La-ongmanee, a chief judge of the Supreme Court, were sacked with their pensions forfeited.

The other two judges are Adisak Timmart, a senior judge of the Supreme Court and former president of the Appeals Court, and Sitthichai Promsorn, chief judge of the Supreme Court. They are entitled to keep their pensions.

I was shocked when I learned the names of the four sacked judges because I personally know two of them as we were in the same class of a course organised by the Office of Judicial Affairs for senior judges to get to know executives of the private sector and senior government officials.

How could that be, I asked myself as I tried to figure out the motives for their wrongdoing. They are all respectable people, or they would not have made it to the Supreme Court. I felt sorry for them nevertheless.

Isra news agency reported that before the judicial committee made its decision, the president of the Supreme Court had suspended both Mr Ong-art and Mr Singpol from duty pending the committee's investigation.

The sacking of the four senior judges might boost public trust and confidence in the judiciary as it shows the bench is serious about combating corruption and will not spare any judges no matter how high their position if they are found guilty of corruption or misuse of their authority.

On the other side of the coin, the scandal is a blow to the credibility and image of the judiciary as a whole.

Certain members of the public may wonder whether they can still trust the judicial system after having lost faith in the police and public prosecutors, although they have not made any public comments about this latest scandal for fear of risking contempt of court charges.

The fear of contempt of court has shielded the Thai judiciary from public criticism for decades, especially positive and constructive criticism that could be beneficial to the judicial institution in a way that it can keep abreast of social changes and allow judges to be more responsive to certain situations.

Judges are empowered to use their discretion in making judgements on court cases that even the president of the Supreme Court cannot meddle with. In meting out the judgements, they are their own bosses.

Only when the judgements are deemed as badly assessed can their superiors step in to mete out punitive actions against them — but not reverse or change their judgements.

A number of court decisions in the past have been greeted with incredulity by the public who found them ridiculous. For instance, a woman who stole a mango to feed her hungry children was given 10 years imprisonment while a rich young person who kills several people and is charged with reckless driving causing death is given a suspended jail term because it is his first criminal offence and because he confessed.

Granting bail to a defendant is at the sitting judge's discretion. But the public often cannot understand the rationale of granting bail to a notorious drug trafficker no matter the size of the surety. In the real world of the judiciary, there have been many cases where drug traffickers have been allowed back onto the streets and have not shown up again to face trial.

Yes, money talks and the higher the amount, the louder the voice. This has been proven true too many times.

Many Thai judges feel they are performing their duty on behalf of the monarchy, and therefore their verdicts are above criticism. That is why the judiciary has been deprived of access to information about how strongly the public feels in regard to some of its decisions - which is regrettable.

The court should be more open to criticism and not feel offended every time the institution or a verdict is criticised.


Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.

 

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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