Released on 8 Mar 2020 (Thai version is below)
Statement: Return Justice, End Judicial Intervention and Ensure Independence of the Judiciary
In connection to the death of Mr. Khanakorn Pianchana, Court of Justice Secretary-General, Sarawut Benchakul, revealed that Mr. Khanakorn Pianchana, who previously served as a Presiding Justice at the Yala provincial court, shot himself in the heart on 7th March 2020. He died at 10.45 am at the hospital in Chiang Mai province. The undersigned organizations hereby mourn his passing and offer our deepest condolences to Judge Khanakorn Pianchana’s family. We call on the Court of Justice to provide compensation and to support the judge’s beloved family to the utmost of its ability as consistent with his status.
The judge committed his first suicidal attempt by shooting himself in the chest on 4th October 2019 inside a Yala provincial courtroom. This act was in protest of a justice system that facilitates the “executives” of the Court of Justice to abuse power by intervening in trial and adjudication cases. Nevertheless, the physician was able to save his life. Subsequently, the judge was under disciplinary investigation and was transferred to the Court of Appeal Region 5 in Chiang Mai province. Yet, Judge Khanakorn Pianchana’s questions concerning judicial intervention in the quorum by court executives remained unanswered. Instead, the judge was investigated and charged in a criminal case.
This demonstrates that the judiciary’s complaint mechanisms for seeking justice are defective. There was no information provided as to whether the regional chief justice alleged of intervening in Judge Khanakorn Pianchana’ s quorum had also been investigated. No reason explained why Judge Khanakorn Pianchana was charged in a criminal case. The judge’s suicide note published on his Facebook on 7th March 2020 said: “I have been investigated by the Court of Justice’s Committee and charged by the inquiry official. I became an alleged offender in a criminal case.”
Rule of Law and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 2017 Constitution uphold independence of the courts. Section 188 Paragraph One provides: “The trial and adjudication of cases are the powers of the Courts which must be carried out in accordance with the laws and in the name of the King.” Paragraph Two provides: “Judges and justices are independent in trial and adjudication of cases, in accordance with the Constitution and laws in a prompt and fair without any prejudice.”
In contrast, the Regulation of Chief Justice Office B.E. 2562 (2019) on “Reporting on Exclusive Policy Driven court file” states that the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal shall send the report of the case file to the President of the Supreme Court. The report of the said case files shall be reviewed by the Regional Chief Justice. Therefore the regional chief justice is authorized to review categories of case files, as well as examine the draft judgment or draft decision.
Considering the 2017 Constitution in comparison with the 1997 Constitution, the 1997 Constitution contains provisions to recognize and guarantee the independence of judges along with details to safeguard the independence of judges. Further, Section 188 stipulates: “The hearing of a case requires a full quorum of judges. Any judge not sitting at the hearing of a case shall not give judgment or a decision on such case, except for the case of force majeure or any other unavoidable necessity as provided by law.” Section 249 Paragraph Two stipulates: “The trial and adjudication by judges shall not be subject to hierarchical supervision.” Section 249 Paragraph Three stipulates: “The distribution of case files to judges shall be in accordance with the rules prescribed by law.” Section 249 Paragraph Four stipulates: “The recall or transfer of case files shall not be permitted except in the case where justice in the trial and adjudication of the case shall otherwise be affected.”, etc.
The 2007 Constitution was revoked and replaced by the 2007 Interim Constitution and the 2017 Constitutions which endorse the principle and spirit of “independence of the judiciary”, including four principles preventing judicial intervention in rendering a judgment by the chief justices who are not in quorum or sitting at any hearing. This safeguards case files from being recalled or transferred, prohibits court executives from allocating any particular case to any particular judge, and ensures the trial and adjudication of cases by judges and justices shall not be subject to hierarchical supervision.
Therefore, the above-mentioned regulation may be contrary to the independence of the court and judiciary. The trial and adjudication of the case proceeded in public; however the review of the draft decision by the executives of the Court of Justice did not proceed in public, which may have influenced the quorum to revise the judgment. This lack of transparency may be abused by the individuals, agencies, executives or government to influence the judiciary.
During the past years, especially a period when the military seized the state power and ruled the country, independence, transparency and efficiency within the Thai justice system has been questioned from inside and outside the country.
The public trust in the justice system is deteriorating.
In security-related cases, or “Executive policy-driven cases,” the quorum must submit the draft judgment to the court executives for review before finalizing the judgment. Through a “recommendation,” a draft judgment is subject to revision.
The system of the Court of Justice is part of the bureaucracy, making a “recommendation” no different from an “order” from a superior. A “recommendation” of the executives of the Court of Justice influences the revision of the judgment of the quorum. It also raises the question amongst injured persons, defendants and attorneys in criminal cases of whether the executive or the military government is able to intervene in the judiciary via the “executives” of the Court of Justice. Some decisions and judgments intensify this question i.e. the decision in the post-mortem autopsy in the Tak Bai incident, many security-related cases in the Southern border provinces, and decisions rendered during the military regime of the National Council for Peace and Order.
Therefore, the Court of Justice should promptly review and revoke any regulations, orders, or proceedings that may intervene or influence the independence of the quorum in undertaking trials and adjudication. The “independence of the judiciary” shall be strictly upheld pursuant to human rights, the rule of law, and the principles and spirit of the Constitution. Additionally, media outlets should pay respect to human dignity of the late judge and his family. They should refrain from using some insulting and sarcastic words, and uphold media ethics.
Judge Khanakorn Pianchana’s suicide on 7th March 2020 is undesirable.
What we all desire is his request to end the judicial intervention to be served. It is crucial that the relevant agencies, mainly the Supreme Court President and the Judicial Commission, reform the judiciary system without delay and with purpose to guarantee the independence of the judiciary in the trial and adjudication of cases from both executives and any outsiders.
This will restore public trust in the courts and ensure that any violations of justice or concealments of injustice inside the Court of Justice will be addressed. Consequently, the court can perform its duty according to the rule of law and be regarded as a key pillar of democracy as well as human rights. This will restore public trust so that the people can wholeheartedly and proudly call the court the last resort of the people.
8th March 2020
The undersigned organizations are as follows:
1. The Cross Cultural Foundation
2. Human Rights and Development Foundation
3. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights
4. Community Resource Centre Foundation
5. Human Rights Lawyers. Association (HRLA)
6. Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
7. Police Watch
8. Patani Human Rights Organization Network (HAP)
9. Duayjai Group
10. Institute for Justice Reform (IJR)
11. The Network of Individuals Affected By the Special Laws
(Jaringan Mangsa Dari Undang-Undang Darurat or JASAD)
12. Togetherness for Equality and Action