Judicial affairs in reform crosshairs
Regime targets 35 laws for 'efficiency' amendments
Up to 35 laws concerning judicial affairs have been amended over the past two years since the May 22, 2014 coup, in the name of judicial procedure reform, one of the key elements of the national reforms which the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) aims to achieve.
Led by Gen Paiboon Koomchaya, head of the NCPO's legal affairs section, it is hoped the reform will revamp a range of areas in Thailand's judicial administration.
Those areas include reducing social disparity, improving the rehabilitation of offenders, tackling drug suppression better, curbing corruption in the public sector, improving special crime prevention and suppression, and meeting international standards for legal and judicial procedure development.
Basically, the reform involves updating outdated laws to catch up with changes in society, the economy, politics and technology, and bring them in line with international obligations and standards, said Wallop Nakbua, deputy director-general of the Office of Justice Affairs.
Aside from amending the laws, it is also crucial to improve awareness and understanding among both members of the public and law enforcement officials, said Mr Wallop in his capacity as a deputy spokesman for the Justice Ministry.
This is to improve the way the laws are implemented, he said, adding a regulatory impact assessment has been adopted to evaluate the efficiency of the changes.
Of the 35 laws amended in the past two years, 11 have come into effect, he said.
They are the land transport act; the bankruptcy act, the act on prevention and suppression of terrorism financing; the anti-money laundering act; the justice fund act; the ministerial, departmental, and divisional improvement act; the act on amendments of the Civil Procedure Code.
Also on the list are the act on the procedure of suspect detentions under the 1963 and the 2016 versions of the Criminal Code; the 16th volume of the 2016 ministerial, departmental, and divisional improvement act; and the 2nd volume of the 2016 act on corruption prevention and suppression measures for administrators.
"Several [amended] laws contain concrete highlights that are important for the public such as the land transport act of the Department of Probation," said Mr Wallop.
The amended land transport act allows more options to punish land transport law offenders, including substituting detention with community service, he said.
The amendment of the act on international cooperation in criminal legal prosecution, for instance, will make it easier to bring transnational criminal suspects to justice by allowing international coordinators to send information about criminal cases in one country to other nations without having to wait for requests for such information, he said.
In terms of improving the efficiency of corruption suppression, the Justice Ministry has assigned the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) to direct corruption suppression law enforcement because the PACC will soon lead the government's fight to contain graft in all sectors.
In addition, there still are at least 19 more draft legal amendments and new bills in the pipeline. One of important ones concerns measures to substitute the filing of criminal lawsuits.
"This specific draft law is still being debated by the parties concerned, namely the police, prosecutors and courts. The courts in particular are requesting revisions," said Mr Wallop.
Despite agreeing with the idea to allow victims and suspects to opt for out-of-court settlements to be mediated by prosecutors, the courts wonder who will balance prosecutors' power, he said.
In addition, the NLA is vetting at least other two important bills, one dealing with forensic science services and the other concerning the payment of financial compensation to defendants in a criminal case who are proved innocent after being jailed for some time.
In the amendment to the forensic science services act, the national DNA database will be improved to make it more accessible to all state agencies, said Mr Wallop.
A unified national DNA database is crucial to improve judicial procedures in general as well as to enhance crime prevention and suppression, he said.
The act on corruption prevention and suppression measures has drawn lots of attention, not only because it deals with measures to suppress public sector graft but also because it gives the prime minister the authority to amend the composition of the PACC and consider PACC members' qualifications, said Mr Wallop.
"These are the efforts the Justice Ministry has made while moving forward on reform broadly. The other organisations involved -- the courts, the prosecutors and the police -- are doing their bit for reform, too," he said.
This article is the third in a seven-part series on two years since the National Council for Peace and Order seized power on May 22, 2014.