THAILAND: Thailand’s public prosecution turning justice into farce

One of the most important legal challenges to the impunity of Thailand’s police in recent years is rapidly degenerating into a farce, thanks in large part to the inept and pathetic role played by the public prosecution. 

On Thursday, November 3, the case against five police officers in the Bangkok Criminal Court in connection with the alleged abduction of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit reached a critical juncture, when the defendants themselves took the stand for the first time. It would be expected that in such complicated and high-profile criminal proceedings the prosecution would be prepared for lengthy and tough cross-examination of the defendants’ testimonies. Instead, the two prosecution attorneys present, who had never been seen in the court before, requested that the cross-examination be postponed by a day to allow them to prepare. The presiding judge refused their request, but gave them 20 minutes. He also queried the prosecution bench as to why the numbers and persons present there have changed constantly throughout the trial. He was told that the other attorneys had been assigned to different cases.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has had observers in the court for most of the trial, and has noted that not only have the faces of the public prosecutors changed constantly, but also that with one exception the quality of their performance in the court has been consistently dismal. Despite the widespread public interest in what happened to Somchai, and the complicated and lengthy hearings, the public prosecution seems to be treating the case as if it is little more than a joke; a waste of its precious time and energy. Its substandard work, compounded by the many other irregularities observed by the AHRC over the last few months, has seriously jeopardised the outcome of the trial and diminished expectations that any kind of justice will be obtained from the court process. 

All of this reflects very badly not only on the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Criminal Litigation, but on the entire Thai judicial system. The question that must be asked is whether Thailand’s criminal prosecution system is anything other than a sham? Does it ever have serious intent to prosecute criminal defendants who happen to be police or other persons of authority who ordinarily enjoy impunity when committing crimes? If this case is not serious for Thailand’s public prosecution, then what case is? Is its work nothing more than the making of some meaningless gestures and the creating of an appearance of activity that is actually devoid of significance? A public prosecutor was heard to say not so long ago that his office is a “luk chin” (meatball) factory: whatever meat it gets, it grinds up and rolls out, without regard to where it came from or what it is. Sadly, from what the AHRC has observed the public prosecution in Thailand cannot even be said to do that much with any measure of credibility and competence.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has today called on the attorney general of Thailand, Kampree Kaocharern, to take immediate and direct measures to reverse the damage caused to the Somchai Neelaphaijit case through the ineffective work of the public prosecution. It calls upon all interested persons and organisations in Thailand and abroad to express similar unreserved concerns. Beyond this, the bumbling and unprofessional work of the public prosecution that is undermining the fundamental human rights of parties to criminal cases throughout Thailand should become a matter of strong public discussion. Demands must be made for more urgent and radical reforms so that justice in Thailand is no longer reduced to farce through such unacceptably low standards of behaviour and lack of commitment. 

Erratum: The AHRC has just learnt that as of October 2005 the new Attorney General of Thailand is Mr Pachara Yutidhammadamrong

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-111-2005
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Administration of justice,