After controversial rulings, Thai opposition pushes to criminalise judicial distortion of law
The opposition Move Forward Party is pushing for an amendment to the Criminal Code that would punish judicial personnel for “distorting the law”.
Move Forward, aka “Kao Klai” in Thai, endorsed its final amendment draft to the Penal Code in late May, seeking to introduce a new offense of “law distortion” against any justice officials – including police investigators, public prosecutors, and judges – who act in a way that unfairly benefits or damages any party involved in the case.
MP Rangsiman Rome from Move Forward says his party’s push to introduce the new criminal offense came after “many instances of law distortion” by justice officials who were influenced by their bias or personal feeling.
“Damage was caused to the people and the justice system. This handful of cases could diminish public faith [in the judicial system],” he said.
Cases of concern
Rangsiman cited the recent Constitutional Court ruling in favor of controversial Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompow. The court ruled that Thammanat was eligible to retain his ministerial post despite being sentenced to prison for drug trafficking in 1994 by an Australian court.
The opposition MP also pointed to the Criminal Court’s repeated refusal to grant pre-trial bail to protest leaders charged in connection with anti-establishment rallies. He said this was tantamount to treating them as guilty prior to trial.
Critics say such rulings are evidence of political bias within the justice system.
Move Forward’s draft amendment bill calls for punishment of any judicial official found to have distorted the law in a way deemed to affect the course of a case in which they are involved. The bill proposes a penalty of between three to 20 years in prison.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told senators today (Monday) that he will stay in office until the end of his four-year term, even though he faces calls for his removal on daily basis.
The proposed amendment is intended as a deterrent to prevent justice officials from interpreting the law in a way that may distort its spirit or undermine the check-and-balance role of an independent justice system, according to Rangsiman. He said his party planned to submit the bill for parliamentary deliberation soon.
The opposition politician notes that distorting the law has long been regarded as a criminal offense in several foreign countries, including Germany.
Modeled after German law
Indeed, the changes proposed by Move Forward are inspired by the German Criminal Code, which penalizes “judicial perversion of justice” with prison sentences of up to five years.
Section 339 of the German law states: “Judges, other public officials or arbitrators who, in the course of conducting or deciding a legal matter, bend the law for the benefit or to the detriment of a party incur a penalty of imprisonment for a term of between one year and five years”.
China also has a criminal law that punishes judges and judicial staff found guilty of bending the law. Article 399 of China’s Penal Code stipulates that “judicial personnel who act with partiality, bend the law or render judgments that misuse the law”, shall be imprisoned for up to five years for a non-serious violation, and at least 10 years for cases of “exceptionally serious circumstances”.
Politics is a game where there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. The old saying was proved true again recently when veteran politician Ruangkrai Leekitwattana switched from the opposition camp to join the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.
Distortion of the law by judges has been studied by many Thai law scholars over the years, including Muan Sukamart, a lecturer at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s School of Law. It was the topic of his thesis, “Perversion of Justice: A Comparative Study to German Law”, submitted in 2017 as part of his master’s in law at Thammasat University.
Muan’s research paper concludes that misuse and distortion of the law by judges has become a problem for Thailand. He noted that Germany had imposed criminal penalties for such distortions only after disciplinary measures failed to prevent them. The 2017 thesis suggests that Thailand follows suit by making distortion of the law an offense in the Criminal Code and penalizing violators with prison penalties.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk