New rule on royal pardon put in place
Convicts must serve 1/3 of original term
A new rule will make it harder for prisoners to seek a reduction of their jail terms through royal pardons, according to the Corrections Department.
Convicts will now be required to serve at least one-third of their prison sentence as ordered by a court before they can ask to be considered for a royal pardon, spokesman Thawatchai Chaiwat said.
In the past, a convict would only be eligible for a royal pardon once at least a third of their prison sentence -- after deducting jail term reductions on other grounds -- remains.
The practice has enabled many convicted criminals serving lengthy jail sentences to secure early release through a royal pardon, after getting their sentences commuted or reduced on other grounds, such as overcrowding or good behaviour.
Mr Thawatchai said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, requests for royal pardons were rarely granted.
However, the onset of the epidemic necessitated the need to shorten convicts' sentences to make room for social distancing within prisons which were already overcrowded.
Even so, only four royal pardons were granted in the last two years, he said.
Mr Thawatchai said the Corrections Department is required to consider the background of each royal pardon applicant, as well as the nature of the crime for which they were convicted and their jail term.
Those jailed on corruption charges and other serious crimes tend to have less chance of seeing their prison terms cut, he said.
Prisoners, he added, are also categorised according to their conduct in prison.
After consideration, a working committee will draft a decree to be presented to the cabinet before the royal pardon is approved.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who oversees the Justice Ministry, said there is also a rule which says prisoners can receive a jail term reduction via a royal pardon after serving a jail term of at least eight years, provided they are deemed by the department to have "excellent conduct" in prison.
So jail term reductions can be sought by a prisoner by either having served one-third of their sentence or spending at least eight years in prison, whichever comes first, according to Mr Wissanu.
Meanwhile, Senator Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the Senate committee on human rights, questioned how the department justifies the eight-year rule.
He insisted that only the one-third requirement should apply.