These are the Central Juvenile and Family Court, the provincial juvenile and Thai family courts, and the juvenile and family divisions of provincial courts. A quorum in each of them requires two career judges and two lay judges, one of whom must be female. An appeal against a decision of, or an order by, any of these courts must be filed with the Courts of Appeal.
There was a need to adjust the law on the establishment and procedure currently implemented by this Court in view of its new structure. It remained under the authority of the Ministry of Justice while all other courts have become independent of the Ministry. It was also necessary to adjust or improve the provisions on the rights, protections, welfare, and practices of all family members. These provisions included procedures that would align with those of the Constitution, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These were the bases of the enactment of the Juvenile and Family Court and its Procedure Act B. E. 2553.
Background and History
As a separate court in 1951, it created the Juvenile Court and Child Observation and Protection Center. That was the first time that juvenile treatment and rehabilitation received proper attention and implementation. The 1991 Act for the Establishment of, and Procedure for, Juvenile and Thai Family Court enhanced this development when enacted. It focused on the protection of the rights of children as well as those of the rest of the family. It evolved from the international concept of the family as an important foundation and institution of society itself. It was in recognition of the reality and significance of family problems that affect the members’ mental state and lives themselves. Up to late 2002, the Juvenile and Family Court was part of the Office of the Judiciary. The Center was part of the Ministry of Justice. The following year, Bangkok installed two juvenile and family courts and several of them in each of the 77 provinces. The Juvenile and Family Court and Procedure of 2010 is the current law.
The minimum age for a criminal conviction was 10. A convict younger than 10 was, instead, committed to a child protection facility. This Court or the law neither punished young convicts aged 10 to 15 but applied other measures for their offenses. These measures were admonition of the young convicts before their release and of their parents and ordering their parents to care for the young convicts for not more than three years. The court could resort to the second measure if it ascertained that the parents could assure that the youngsters would not repeat the offense. The Court assessed the sense of responsibility and other capabilities of young convicts between 15 and 18 if he or she deserved some punishment. That punishment, however, was only half of what it entailed if he or she were an adult.
Section 3 of Article 40 of the 2008 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights amended these provisions of all member-signatories. It requires them to set a minimum age for child criminal offenders who shall be presumed incapable of breaking a criminal law. It, however, leaves the decision on the specific age to member-signatories. The initial absolute minimum age considered by the Committee in 2007 was 12. It later decided that 12 was low and encouraged the members to raise it to 14. It further commended member-states, which would raise it to 15 or 16.
Fair trial shall be the hallmark of the entire legal process. It shall occur only in appropriate places without any form of discrimination or the presence of other un-involved accused or other individuals. The proceedings shall use only simple, common, and easily understandable language, especially to the young parties. The court shall present the legal advisor. The parent or guardian of the young parties may attend the trial. The court shall also be a special room not used for ordinary litigations. And the judge shall not wear the customary gown.
The young accused shall have the full right to participate actively in the entire duration of the investigation and trial. He and his parents or guardian shall have the full opportunity to state their perceived facts or interpretation of these, their feelings and opinions. They also have the right to present their witnesses and to cross-examine the witnesses of their opponent at any time during the trial. Every phase of the trial has time limits and the judge must render a verdict within six months from the filing of the case.
The privacy of the case and the parties shall receive full respect from all. The law does not allow media or personal coverage of the trial or any means of revealing or identifying the parties or anything about him or her. The court shall automatically extinguish all criminal records of young offenders when they reach 18. Young convicts of serious offenses may also request the destruction of their criminal records subject to conditions.
Member-states shall find ways of preventing court proceedings or convictions, such as through diversions.
Juvenile and Family Cases Escalate
Chief Judge Jiraniti Hawanon of the Central Juvenile and Thai Family Court reported an alarming increase of cases filed in his court this month alone. He referred to the 120 civil cases and 130 cases for trial against young offenders. Of these numbers, 40% are drug offenses, 30% thefts, and 10% sexual offenses. He stated these figures in his speech during a seminar when discussing the 2010 amendment to the 1991 Court. The amendment aims at reducing the number of cases, especially unnecessary ones, from getting filed at his Court. He emphasized that the amendment also aims at eliminating the routine of jailing young offenders.
He enumerated the Court’s four methods of discouraging the youth from the commission of crimes. These are counseling, rehabilitation, a community network to monitor and handle juvenile problems and issues, and some social power to contain and change the behavior of the young.
He pointed out that filing cases at the juvenile and Thai family courts should be the last recourse. He expressed confidence that if the efficient implementation of the said four methods could solve, reduce or prevent the majority of juvenile problems.