Scholar sees chance to sue NCPO

Scholar sees chance to sue NCPO

Special report: Charter court ruling could open way for damages claim

Worachet Pakeerut
Worachet Pakeerut

The lawyer of Worachet Pakeerut, a Thammasat University law professor and core member of the anti-coup Nitirat group, said he will look into whether it is possible to file a suit for damages from former members of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after the Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that summons orders issued by the now-defunct military regime are unconstitutional.

The court ruled by a vote of 7-2 that NCPO Announcement No.29/2014 contravened Section 29 of the constitution.

The court also ruled by a unanimous decision that NCPO Announcement No.41/2014 runs counter to Section 26 of the charter.

Announcement No.29 ordered people to report to authorities while Announcement No.41 stipulated penalties including criminal action against those who failed to report.

Section 29 of the charter says that no person shall be subject to a criminal punishment unless he or she has committed an act which the law in force at the time of commission stipulates to be an offence and prescribes a punishment. Section 26 says the enactment of a law resulting in the restriction of rights or liberties of a person shall be in accordance with the conditions provided by the constitution.

After the May 22, 2014 coup, Mr Worachet was summoned on June 10, 2014 by the NCPO but he failed to report. A political source said at the time that Mr Worachet travelled to Hong Kong from Chiang Rai to meet red-shirt leaders soon after he was summoned by the regime.

After he arrived back in Bangkok from Hong Kong on June 16, 2014, Mr Worachet was escorted to the 11th Infantry Regiment (King's Guard) in Bang Khen district where he was detained for 48 hours before being taken to the Crime Suppression Division headquarters.

He was charged with defying the NCPO's orders to report. The police then took him to the Bangkok Military Court. However, the court granted him a 20,000 baht bail. Mr Worachet later fought the case in Military Court for about six years before the case was transferred to a civilian court -- the Dusit Court -- early this year.

During the trial at the Dusit Court, Mr Worachet asked the court to forward his petition to the Constitutional Court to consider if the NCPO orders were constitutional. The Dusit Court put his case on hold while awaiting the Constitutional Court's ruling.

It was the first time the Constitutional Court had accepted a petition disputing the legality of the NCPO's orders after the 2017 constitution was enacted.

Winyat Chartmontree, the lawyer representing Mr Worachet, said he and his client will wait for a ruling from the Dusit Court. If the court rules in favour of his client based on the Constitutional Court's decision, this should set a precedent for other similar cases involving people defying the NCPO's summons orders, pending in other courts, Mr Winyat said.

However, he admitted it is unlikely his client will be able to file suit for damages from former members of the NCPO led by Gen Prayut because Section 279 of the charter legitimises all orders, announcements, and actions of the NCPO.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Thursday that orders were issued by the NCPO after the 2014 coup when there was no permanent constitution. The two NCPO orders were ruled by the court to be unconstitutional only after the current charter was enacted, Mr Wissanu said.

Asked if those who were charged with defying the summons orders could file for damages, Mr Wissanu said they could not do so. He added that authorities at the time were duty-bound to carry out their duties according to the NCPO's orders.

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