Affront to justice system

Affront to justice system

The military regime's order giving soldiers the power to summon, arrest and detain people suspected of being involved in illegal activities without oversight from the court is an affront to the justice system that will inflict serious and long-term damage to the country.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Tuesday issued an order under the powerful Section 44 of the provisional charter giving soldiers from the rank of sub-lieutenant up the same powers as the police.

Citing the government's policy to crack down on "mafia figures", the order also allows the authorised officers to conduct searches on private property without warrants. If they believe there is enough grounds for suspicion, the officers can also seize assets belonging to suspects, suspend their financial transactions and bar them from travelling.

That is not all. The order specified that actions taken by the designated officers under this order are not covered by laws relating to the Administrative Court and Administrative Court procedure.

This can only mean the military officers who act under the order will be given immunity as citizens are barred from taking them to task even in the event of wrongful behaviour. Violations to citizens or damages to their property will be considered collateral damage.

In short, the NCPO's order gives all the powers of crime investigation, law enforcement and due process to military officers who are not professionally trained to pursue these tasks. Worse, the soldiers will apparently enjoy sweeping power without having to take any responsibility for their actions.

Judged against the principle of accountability, the command is imprudent. Since it basically allows the designated soldiers to take justice into their own hands, the order is a direct offence against the fair legal and judicial process that lies at the heart of the rule of law which the NCPO itself promised to maintain. In defending the order, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said military officers have been given the new powers because there are not enough policemen to tackle crimes.

It is a strange rationale, and convoluted indeed. If the police really lack enough manpower to do their jobs, shouldn't the government do something about it? It can also look into the police force's efficiency and effectiveness. It begs the question why empowering soldiers who are not familiar with criminal investigations and criminal justice to do the police's work can be considered the best solution.

Even assuming that the NCPO has the best intentions in equipping military officers with the new powers because a relatively large number of police officers have been found to be among the target list of "influential criminal figures" themselves, the solution is still more trouble than it's worth.

Given the wide-ranging powers, broad room for interpretation and impunity for their actions that soldiers are set to enjoy under the order, the possibility of abuse and mistakes is enormous. The "war on drugs" campaign initiated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and heavy casualties it caused as police went on a concerted hunt for suspects should serve as a lesson.

A social improvement campaign, whether it is one to rid the country of crimes, narcotics or criminal figures, must be pursued within the rightful legal and judicial framework. When law enforcement duties are carried out by extraordinary measures that make an exemption of the law itself, it is the entire justice process that becomes the victim.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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