COURTS AND JUDICIARY
King Rama V founded the first building of the Courts of Justice in the year 1882. The Ministry of Justice was established and brought about the centralization of all Courts of Justice in 1892. Meanwhile, the first law code was promulgated in 1908 on criminal law. The founder of modern Thai law was Prince Rabi of Ratchaburi who played a leading role in introducing a modern system of judicial administration.
The Revolution of 1932 had an important effect on the Thai legal and judiciary system since it changed the form of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional hierarchy. The Constitution vested the judiciary power with the Courts. Judges perform their duties in the name of the King and are assured of independence in adjudicating cases according to the law.
The Constitution is the supreme legislation of the country that establishes the powers, functions and duties as well as the structure of the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.
The types of courts recognized under the Constitution are:
- the Constitution Court,
- the Court of Justice,
- the Administrative Court and
the Military Court.
The Constitution Court and the Administrative Court are of recent origin. Although this change decreases the scope of the jurisdiction of the Courts of Justice, most cases fall under the jurisdiction of the Courts of Justice.
The structure of the Courts of Justice is divided into two parts viz.
The Office of the Judiciary, an independent organization and a juristic person, is the only organization responsible for the administration of the Courts of Justice, which gives a guarantee to the independence of the Thai Judiciary from political interference.
The power of adjudication is vested with the Courts of Justice, to try and adjudicate cases relating to criminal, civil, bankruptcy, and all cases those are not within the jurisdiction of other types of courts. When there is a problem of whether a particular case will fall under the jurisdiction of which type of courts, the Commission on Jurisdiction of Courts chaired by the President of the Supreme Court is authorized by the Constitution to make a decision. Such decision is final.
The Courts of Justice are classified into three levels consisting of
- the Supreme Court.
- the Courts of Appeal and
the Courts of First Instance,
The Courts of Justice have occasionally developed efficiency in handling cases. The developments fall into three ways, i.e., the increase of the number of courts, the emergence of the division and the branch of courts, and the establishment of the specialized courts.
THE SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in every civil and criminal case in the whole Kingdom. The Court consists of the President, Vice - Presidents, the Secretary and a number of justices. It is divided into divisions with three justices in each division. The President of the Supreme Court is also the head of the Courts of Justice. In the present system of the Courts of Justice, the President of the Supreme Court plays a great role in judicial and administrative works.
The Supreme Court also has the Research Division consisting of research justices.
At least three justices of the Supreme Court form a quorum. The court may, however, sit in plenary session to determine cases of exceptional importance and cases where there are reasons for reconsideration or overruling of its own precedents. The quorum for the full Court is not less than half of the total number of justices in the Supreme Court.
The quorum of this special division of the Court consists of nine justices of the Supreme Court who hold position of not lower than justice of the Supreme Court, and are elected by a plenary session of the Supreme Court justices on a case by case basis. A judgment will be made by a majority of votes; provided that each justice constituting the quorum will prepare the written opinion and make oral statements to the meeting before making decision.
THE COURTS OF APPEAL
The Courts of Appeal consist of the Court of Appeal and nine Regional Courts of Appeal. The Court of Appeal handles an appeal against the judgment or order of the Civil Courts and the Criminal Courts. Meanwhile, the Regional Courts of Appeal handle an appeal against the judgment or order of the other Courts of First Instance. The jurisdictions of the Regional Courts of Appeal are consistent with the jurisdictions of the Courts of First Instance Regions 1-9. Each Courts of Appeal is headed by the President of the Court assisted by Vice Presidents of the Court. The Court is divided into divisions. Each division has one chief justice and two other justices. At least three justices form a quorum.
An appeal on point of law and, subject to certain specified restrictions, on point of fact lies from the Courts of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
Each Courts of Appeal has a Research Division consisting of research judges. Primary functions of the Division are to assist justices of the Courts of Appeal by examining all relevant factual and legal issues of the cases, conducting legal researches and discussing with those justices to ensure uniformity and fair results.
The Courts of First Instance
The Courts of First Instance are further divided into
- general courts,
- juvenile courts
- family courts and
The general courts are ordinary courts which have authorities to try and adjudicate criminal and civil cases. Those courts are:
- Civil Courts,
- Criminal Courts,
- Provincial Courts and
Quorum: In the general courts, except the Kwaeng Courts, at least two judges form a quorum.
Appeal: An appeal against a judgment on both questions of law and, subject to some conditions, questions of fact or an order of the general courts lies to the Courts of Appeal.
Administration: For the administration of the Provincial Courts and Kwaeng Courts, the Office of the Court of Justice Region headed by the Chief Judge of that Region, is responsible for the courts in the Region in some extents.
The Chief Judge of the Region is regarded as a judge of any court in his region with power to try and adjudicate particular cases, such as cases concerning offence against public security, serious criminal offence, high amount claim and contempt of court. He also has power to order a judge of the court in his region upon the latter's consent to work temporarily for not more than three month in another court. The Chief Judge, however, must immediately inform the President of the Supreme Court about such order.
Under Thai Law, Civil Courts deals with the cases of civil nature. The plaintiff brings a civil case to the court where the cause of action arises or where the defendant is domiciled. Where an immovable property is involved, the plaintiff has to bring a lawsuit to the court where such property is situated, or where the defendant is domiciled. In Bangkok, Courts of First Instance dealing with civil cases are the Civil Court, the Civil Court of Southern Bangkok, the Thon Buri Civil Court and the Min Buri Provincial Court depending on a district where the cause of action arises or where the defendant is domiciled. Before 1977, the Civil Court was only a court adjudicating civil cases in Bangkok; yet the high increase of caseload in the Civil Court led to the setting up of the other civil courts in Bangkok.
For disputes on civil matters occurring outside the territorial jurisdiction, the Civil Court has discretion either to try and adjudicate those cases or to transfer them to the court having territorial jurisdiction.
As regards criminal cases, the court in a district where an accused resides or is arrested, or where an inquiry official makes an inquiry has jurisdiction over the cases. In Bangkok, Courts of First Instance handling criminal cases are the Criminal Court, the Criminal Court of Southern Bangkok, the Thon Buri Criminal Court and the Min Buri Provincial Court depending on a district where an accused resides or is arrested, or where an inquiry official makes an inquiry. Like the Civil court, the reason to establish other criminal courts in Bangkok was to alleviate the workloads of the Criminal Court. Also, the Criminal Court has a discretion either to try and adjudicate criminal cases arising outside its territorial jurisdiction but was brought before it or to transfer them to the court having territorial jurisdiction.
THE MIN BURI PROVINCIAL COURT
The Min Buri Provincial Court, the only provincial court in Bangkok Metropolis, deals with both civil and criminal cases arising in the northern part of Bangkok Metropolis. The character of this court is the same as the general provincial courts.
The primary function of Municipal Courts is to dispose of small cases quickly with a minimum formality and expense. The jurisdiction of these courts covers both criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases fallen in the jurisdiction must deal with the criminal offence punishable with a maximum of three years imprisonment, or fine not exceeding 60,000 Baht or both. For civil cases, the amount of claims must not exceed 300,000 Baht. The proceeding in Municipal Courts is emphasized on the speedy trial, therefore, the trial is more simple and oral judgment or summarized judgment is issued.
THE JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURTS
The Juvenile and Family Courts consist of the Central Juvenile and Family Court, the Provincial Juvenile and Family Courts, and the Division of Juvenile and Family Court in the Provincial Courts. Two career judges and two associate judges, one of those must be a woman, constitute a quorum of the Juvenile and Family Courts. An appeal against a judgment or order of the Juvenile and Family Courts lies to the Courts of Appeal.
There are four specialized courts in Thailand, i.e,
- the Labour Court,
- the Tax Court,
- the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and
the Bankruptcy Court
The establishment of the specialized courts is to ensure that specific or technical problems will be solved by an appropriate judge. A judge in the specialized courts is appointed from a judge who possesses competent knowledge of the specific matters.
There are four types of judge in the current system, namely,
- a career judge,
- senior judge,
- associate judge, and
Datoh Yutithum or Kadis.
Career judges are recruited by the Judicial Commission and are appointed by His Majesty the King. Besides having certain qualifications such as being of Thai nationality, passing the examination of the Thai Bar Association to become a Barrister-at-law, and having not less than two years working experience in legal professions, a candidate must pass a high competitive examination given by the Judicial Commission.
According to the Rules of Appointing and Holding Senior Judge Position Act, when judges reach Sixty Years of age, they can remain in office to perform duties, but merely in the Courts of First Instance, provided that they are approved by the Judicial Commission and are appointed by His Majesty the King. When they become sixty-five years old, and pass the assessment of fitness performance, they are able to remain their senior judges status until they reach seventy years of age.
A senior judge cannot be appointed to hold an administrative position; namely, a Chief Justice, or even to perform duties in place of such person. Further, a senior judge is prohibited not only from being elected to be a Judicial Commissioner, but also to vote in electing such commissioner.
Lay judges are laymen recruited separately to perform duties in the Juvenile and Family Courts, the Labour Court or the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court. The aim of having lay judges is to have an experienced person or an expert in a relevant field who can work closely with a career judge in adjudicating cases. Unlike a career judge, becoming a lay judge is not a permanent position. Each lay judge holds the office for a term of certain years depending on which specialized court he or she is working for.
According to the Act on the Application of Islamic Law in the Territorial Jurisdictions of certain Provinces, the Islamic Law on Family and Succession except the provisions on prescription in respect of succession shall apply instead of the Civil and Commercial Code in rendering a judgment in civil cases concerning family and succession of Muslims. In such case, career judges and a Kadi who is an expert in Islam will sit on the bench together to adjudicate the case to comply with the principle of Islam. A kadi must not be less than thirty years of age, know Thai language at the prescribed level , and have knowledge in Islam to enable him to apply the Islamic laws relating to family and succession.