Category Archives: Thailand

New Mandala published a pretty damning article claiming that Thailand has become a juristocracy. I disagree on the extent and uniformity of the partisanship (see my 2010 New Mandala piece for my thoughts), but I think Eugenie provides an interesting point on the importance of the judicial oath of office and how it differs from oath for other important political officials.

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May 31, 2014 · 12:45

Foreign Policy on Thai Constitutional Court

Jake Scobey at Foreign Policy interviewed me on May 7, 2014, to discuss the recent constitutional crisis in Thailand. It’s a useful summary of the Thai Constitutional Court’s role in recent Thai politics. For the record, I’m a bit more sanguine about the Court and even noted in my article that pre-2006 the Court had a reputation for leaning towards Thaksin. However, I believe the article is correct in its concern that the Thai constitutional system has too many checks and not enough balance between the branches of government.

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Filed under elections, Thailand, Thaksin, Uncategorized

Thai Constitutional Court removes Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

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May 7, 2014 · 18:08

Thaksin come home? (Thailand)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard much from Thailand’s Constitutional Court. Now, with Yingluck Shinawatra almost done with her second year in office, Thaksin Shinawatra’s political allies are attempting to amend the 2007 Constitution in order to allow Thaksin himself to return to the country. However, a member of the Senate has asked the Constitutional Court to stop the move. While the justices have agreed to hear the case, they have not issued an injunction against parliament.

The case raises a fascinating constitutional question: can amendments to the constitution ever be considered unconstitutional? Do courts have the authority to rule on amendments that go through the constitutional amendment process? Few courts have taken such a position. (for more about this issue, check out Gary Jacobsohn’s International Journal of Constitutional Law article).

In Golak Nath v. State of Punjab, the India’s Supreme Court declared that a constitutional amendment could not render the fundamental rights guaranteed in Indian Constitution unenforceable. The 1973 Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala decision reversed this broad declaration, but did assert its authority to strike down laws that contradicted the “basic structure” of the constitution. Later, during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency Rule, it used this power to strike down the 38th and 39th amendments, which would have stripped the court of jurisdiction over elections and rights cases during Emergency Rule.

If Thailand’s Constitutional Court invalidates the amendment, it will be interesting to see if they adopt India’s “basic structure” doctrine. An argument could be made that the 2007 Constitution was implicitly designed to prevent a Thaksin resurrection, so allowing him to return would defeat the entire point of the constitution. However, that would require the justices to extract a very partisan message from the document. More likely is that the court would find that parliament violated the procedures for the amendment process. Either way, the Thai Constitutional Court is back on the radar!

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Filed under constitution, Thailand, Thaksin

Are less majeste cases important enough

First of all, sorry for the lack of posts, despite the huge amount of law-related news from the Philippines and other parts of SEA. I was in Myanmar last month, and between a slow internet connection and being busy with meetings, I didn’t have much time to post. However, I did obtain a copy of the Constitutional Tribunal’s 2011 decisions and learned a few interesting things about the court.

Until I have time to write about that trip, here is a very in-depth article about the Thai Constitutional Court’s recent decision on a lesse majeste case. Elizabeth Fitzgerald tries to understand the court’s reasoning for dismissing the petitioner’s challenge against the constitutionality of the lesse majeste laws. Unfortunately, the court’s reasoning is still somewhat unclear after having read the article, but I guess that is Ms. Fitzgerald’s point.

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Filed under constitution, lesse majeste, Thailand

Less lesse is more

I’ve already posted about a few of the ongoing lesse majeste cases in Thailand. What makes Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case worth mentioning is that there’s some hope she might win. The judge said several times that this case was “nothing” or “no big deal,” strongly implying that he saw no grounds for the prosecution. I’m not that familiar with how judges interact with lawyers and defendants in the courtroom, but those seem like pretty informal comments. New Mandala posted more earlier today.

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Filed under lesse majeste, Thailand

US courts, Thai law

I’ve mentioned Thailand’s lesse majesty prosecutions. On it’s face, it’s not clear how Thai legal activists can respond to what many see as out-of-control prosecutions against the Thai elite’s enemies. That’s why I found it interesting to see a New Mandala blog post about a legal response to lesse majeste – but in a U.S. court! The World Organization for Human Rights has brought a suit against web hosting firm Netfirms, Inc., for releasing the identity of an anonymous poster on a Thai prodemocracy website. According to the complaint, the poster, Anthony Chai, was:

subsequently detained at the Bangkok airport, taken to the Department of Special Investigations, and interrogated about his postings on the website. After finally being released from police custody in Bangkok and returning home to California, Mr. Chai was then interrogated by Thai officials over the course of two days on U.S. soil at a hotel in Hollywood, California. Mr. Chai was later informed by Thai officials that if he returns to Thailand, he will be arrested and charged with violating lese majesté laws.

Unfortunately, I’m not caught up with U.S. jurisprudence on the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and other human rights law, so I won’t hazard a guess as to the outcome. Still, I’ll make a few observations. First, unlike in many ATCA cases, the company did clearly take an action that had an impact on the plaintiff. There will probably be no debate over whether the company knew or should have known that Thailand was prosecuting lesse majeste.

That being said, Mr. Chai, a California native, did return to Thailand after making the post and has been released from prison. In fact, the Thai government has warned him it would arrest him on future trips, so Mr. Chai would have to actively return to Thailand in order to suffer further harm. A judge might view this as too speculative to rule on for concrete damages.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll try to follow the case and also get a better sense of U.S. law in this area. I know other U.S. internet firms have been sued on similar legal grounds (such as Yahoo releasing data to the Chinese government about political dissidents). In the meantime, for those interested in learning more, you can download the full complaint here.

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Filed under lesse majeste, Thailand, United States, USA