While the Thai legal system is complex, and judgments can take years to come down, there are some general rules.
Being a civil law jurisdiction, Supreme Court decisions are persuasive but not binding and criminal law is statute-based, allowing judges broad discretion and no jury. A skilled local lawyer will understand the process and anticipate the moves of opposing counsel.
Court of First Instance
In Thailand, the judicial system is based on international standards and innovative information technology. Currently, the judiciary maintains district courts, provincial courts, Central Courts (also known as the Supreme Courts), military courts, and specialized courts such as family and labor courts. The latter also includes the new International Trade and Intellectual Property Court. The losing party in the decision rendered by these trial courts can appeal at the Court of Appeals and, if they still do not agree, can file with the Supreme or Dika Court.
Under Thai criminal law, it is the sole responsibility of the judge presiding over the case to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant and, if found guilty, to decide on the punishment that will be imposed. In addition, a judge is not permitted to reduce the punishment by more than half. Consequently, the role of the public prosecutor is to present facts and evidence for the court to consider.
Court of Appeal
As in many jurisdictions, the judge presiding over the case has sole discretion to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant and to decide on sentencing. There is no jury system in Thailand, and court proceedings are conducted in the native language.
The Court of Appeal, consisting of the central and nine regional courts, hears appeals on questions of law from decisions rendered in the specialized courts. It also rehears cases on questions of facts that are important to the case.
The Supreme (Dika) Court, located in Bangkok, hears appeals from the Court of Appeal on questions of law and in some cases questions of fact. The court will reaffirm, dismiss, reverse or amend the judgment of the lower courts. A ruling rendered by the Dika Court will be binding on future appeals, unlike in England where a previous decision can only be cited as a precedent. This is called res judicata in Thai law.
Court of Military Court
The Court of Military Court operates like a regular court and judges are all military officers. Civilians charged with a crime can expect to receive a fair trial and be guaranteed their rights. However, the ALRC found that there are many limitations in the functioning of the court.
The court system in Thailand is composed of Courts of First Instance, the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court (Dika). The Supreme Court hears appeals from the nine regional and central courts and can reaffirm, dismiss or reverse the lower courts’ decisions. It can also issue royal decrees that are not contrary to the constitution, declare war and enter into international treaties with the approval of the national assembly.
Courts of First Instance include general courts, juvenile and family courts as well as specialized courts – the labor, tax, intellectual property and foreign trade courts. Losing parties in cases that have been decided by these courts often file for an overturn at the appeals courts.
The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority in Thailand and has the power to try and adjudicate cases involving constitutional issues, cases appealed from the Courts of First Instance, the Courts of Appeal and the Specialized Courts, as well as other matters prescribed by law. The Supreme Court also has the power to decide on administrative cases.
Judicial independence is guaranteed by the Constitution of Thailand. Court proceedings are inquisitorial, and there is no jury system. Judges decide a case based on the merits presented to them, and their decisions are final.
In Thailand, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the public prosecutor to prove the facts and evidence against an accused, as set out in the Penal Code of Thailand. Court judgments are published in the Government Gazette. The Supreme Court’s judgments have a high degree of influence on lower courts. However, unlike common law countries, higher courts in Thailand are not bound by decisions of their own predecessors.