Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases in Thailand

In Thailand, like many other countries, there are civil and criminal cases. It is important to understand the differences in legal proceedings and procedures, and the impact they can have on a foreign national being detained abroad.

It is critical to work with a lawyer who is fluent in your language and understands the unique challenges that you may face. Embassies often maintain lists of recommended lawyers.

Civil Courts

Litigation is generally considered a last resort for resolving disputes. Parties often fear that recourse to the courts will disrupt business relationships, increase costs and time spent in court proceedings, as well as lengthen the period during which a dispute remains unresolved.

Disputes that fall within the civil court jurisdiction include disputes on property, divorces and custody of children. There are 11 civil courts located in Bangkok (Southern, Thon Buri and Min Buri criminal, as well as District and Kweang) and 96 provincial courts and 27 Kweang courts that cover both civil and small criminal cases.

There are also four specialized courts: the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, the Labor Court and the Bankruptcy Court. These courts are presided over by career judges and specialize in the fields they oversee. Appeals from decisions rendered by these specialized courts are heard by the Supreme Court. A quorum of three justices is required for appeals to be considered.

Criminal Courts

A criminal case can be initiated by submitting a complaint to police or directly to the court. In both instances, a judge will hold a pretrial conference to discuss and agree on procedures and evidence before witnesses are called for testimony. This allows for hearings to take place quickly and minimizes delays.

Unlike other countries, there is no jury system in Thailand. It is the sole responsibility of the presiding judge to decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant and determine sentencing if convicted.

Like the civil courts, the Criminal Courts are specialized. The Central Labor Court handles cases that are not heard in the provincial or district courts, and it is composed of one professional judge, one lay judge from employer federations and two judges who have career expertise. It resolves cases within four or six months upon the filing of complaints and does not tolerate lengthy delays. The judgments of these courts may be appealed to the Supreme Court, though only on points of fact or law.

Specialized Courts

The Criminal Court is a court of justice of first instance that applies the criminal law in Bangkok. It has jurisdiction over offences liable to imprisonment. It has 17 divisions. The Supreme Court (Dika) is the highest court in Thailand and a part of the Kingdom’s Court of Justice. It hears appeals on matters of law and on some matters of fact from courts of appeal and directly from specialized courts.

It also decides cases on matters of national importance. It has 17 divisions and a headquarters in Bangkok. The other specialized courts are the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, Labour Cases, Taxation Cases, Bankruptcy Cases and Family Court. These specialized courts adjudicate cases by expert judges who have the expertise in these matters. They have specific procedures that must be followed. The judge presiding over each case has the right to decide whether or not to accept a plea, and if so, how much of a sentence to give.

Appeal Courts

In a criminal case, the plaintiff has to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden of proof is higher than in common law countries, which also do not have a jury system. The Supreme Court acts as the court of last resort for all kinds of cases in the Kingdom. Parties who are dissatisfied with the judgments or orders from the Court of Appeal and the Courts of Appeal Regions I – IX may bring an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The judicial system in Thailand can be somewhat complicated but it is still relatively predictable at the onset. A well-versed local lawyer can prevent surprises and ensure that a client knows what to expect at each stage of the process.

If a party is confronted with criminal litigation in Thailand, it is crucial to engage knowledgeable counsel that understands the Thai courts and how they operate. This knowledge is invaluable when it comes to defending against a conviction.

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