Courts in Thailand, an Overview

A Hybrid Legal System, Sources of Law

Thailand’s legal system is a merger of foreign influences that is traditionally civil in nature and adapted from the age-old Hindu Code of Manu. It later took after the civil system in the 19th century and began to take the shape of the civil law systems of Europe, which are statute-based. Common-law aspects, however, have remained, such as the separation of powers, as the lingering influence of the Hindu Code of Manu.

The current legal system is statutory in that it consists of laws passed by the law-making body. Chief sources of laws are the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, codes and acts, decrees, and customs. These prevail. Judicial verdicts are not binding but are persuasive and set precedents. They only become secondary sources of law.

Types of Thai  Courts 

Unlike US courts, Thailand does not have juries. Judges try cases and disputes. It has special courts that handle disputes just like the British legal system although it still differs from the British legal system. The general courts of Thailand are the civil courts, criminal courts, municipal courts, and provincial courts.

Every province has provincial and municipal courts. Bangkok is a large city where the Bangkok court hears all cases. A Minburi provincial court hears cases in the northern part of the city. Arrests in Silom, for example, are handled by the Bangkok provincial court and the Mimburi court handles arrests in Bangkapi as another example.

Municipal courts, on the other hand, try smaller or minor cases. A case is considered small or minor when a civil claim is no more than 300,000 baht, imprisonment of no more than three years, or a fine of no more than 60,000 baht.

One more difference between these two types of courts is that every general court must have two judges while only one judge is necessary to try cases in a municipal court. 

Court Systems

These are courts of justice, courts of first instance, general courts, municipal courts, juvenile and family courts, specialized courts, central bankruptcy courts, international property and trade courts, labor courts, tax and duty courts, and supreme or Dika court. There are also military courts, administrative courts, and constitutional tribunals.

The courts of justice require a varying number of judges possessing different levels of special judicial fields of expertise as called for by the level and type of court. The levels are one lower and two appellate.

The first level of the court system is the court of first instance where cases are tried or heard and have three divisions.

The Juvenile and Family Court handles criminal cases involving children aged seven to 14,  young people aged 15 to 18, and those under 20 or minors in cases covered by the Civil and Commercial Code.

This Court also tries family disputes and cases, such as divorce, family support and custody, and all other matters that affect children or young people. Thai law does not penalize children younger than seven or sentence those below 14 with imprisonment. Two professional judges and two lay judges hear cases in this court. And one of them must be female.

Specialized Courts

All these courts are situated in Bangkok but only the labor court has provincial branches. Decisions by these courts may be appealed directly with the Supreme Court, i.e., not needing to pass the appeals court.  Their procedures differ from those of regular courts. A pretrial conference is required before evidence is presented. At that conference, all the parties themselves agree on the procedures and the time, dates, proceedings, and possible mediation. The purpose of the conference is to shorten and hasten the resolution. The court may allow the parties to present their respective evidence immediately so as to preserve or allow access to it.

Central Bankruptcy Court

Established in 1999, it was recently amended to provide two mechanisms in cases of bankruptcy, liquidation, and reorganization, which either the debtor or creditor can initiate.  In some cases, it accepts hearsay evidence or recorded or long-distance but live testimonies when submitting a deposition. It can also hear testimonies through video conferences or computerized records as evidence.

Intellectual Property and International Trade Court or IP & IT

This was established in 1997 as a court of first instance in disputes on such matters. It decides civil and criminal cases involving trademarks, copyrights, civil or criminal patents, technology transfer agreements, civil licensing, international sale, exchanges of goods, financial instruments, services, carriage, insurance, and related civil legal actions.

Labor Court

One career judge, one lay judge from employer federations, and another from labor federations hear cases in this court. The Central Labor Court resolves cases within four or six months upon the filing of complaints and will tolerate only a few delays.

Tax and Duty Court

This court handles disputes in these areas through a quorum of two judges, one lay and the other possessing career expertise.

Court of Appeal

A party may appeal on the basis of a point of fact or of law. Of the 10 such courts, nine are regional that try appeals from provincial courts and one is in Bangkok that tries appeals from the civil and criminal courts. A quorum of no less than three judges is required to hear appeals.                

Supreme or”Dika” Court

Located in Bangkok, it hears appeals on questions of law and, at times, on questions of fact, elevated from the courts of appeal. It also hears direct appeals from specialized courts. Of its 60-70 justices is the President himself as Chief Justice and the Vice Presidents. It has 17 divisions, each consisting of three justices, the required number for a quorum. Exceptionally important cases require a quorum of no less than half of all the judges of the Court.

How Thai Courts Operate

They do not discriminate against any litigant. Nationals, foreigners, individuals, and corporate entities can expect fair trials in Thailand. Cases brought against any government agency, official, or employee have a 60% chance of winning a case.  In general, these courts observe and protect basic universal rights and freedoms but do not recognize any individual’s inalienable constitutional rights acknowledged and respected in other countries.

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