Policy Option on “Justice fund”: A prospect for peace and equality in access to justice
“The option will be employed as a manuscript to the draft of the new model of legislation ‘the Justice Fund Act’” Justice Minister, Pracha Promnok gave a bold statement to support the future amendments of the fund as proposed by the research team.
On 14th March 2013, Thammasat Law Research and Consultancy, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Muslim Attorney Center (MAC) jointly submitted the policy option on “Justice Fund” to the government at the Ministry of Justice and the leader of the opposition party at Democrat party.
The “Justice Fund” policy option has been developed as part of the “Improvement of Access to Justice for Civilians in the Deep South Provinces of Thailand (IAJ)”, a 27-month project (January 2011-March 2013) supported by the European Union (EU) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS). The policy option aims to promote an alternative but consistent framework to the justice fund’s current practice.
The proposed amendments aim at setting future precedent for the fund’s expenditure management, exercised criteria and requirement for external support. The policy option incorporates the analysis on funding management, budgeting and outcome production and proposes the standard practice for lawyers who hold the fund’s registration.
By and large, it will provide the basis for progressive enhancement of the Thai justice and legal aid system. The improvement will greatly expedite the overall process of state and non-state legal aid system aimed at enhancement of the indigent individuals in the Deep-South provinces as well as throughout Thailand.
The fund, established since 2006, is currently run by the Department of Rights and Liberties, Ministry of Justice. Due to the large volume of applications and instability of budget flow, its operation is facing an inevitable set of challenges.
Six important features of the proposed policy option include:
(1) The sustainable management plan of the “Justice Fund” cannot be achieved without the provision of reliable funding sources. The state must guarantee such provisions to the funding body. This will increase the consistency of the future strategy and budget planning;
(2) The state’s bail bond requirement should not be limited only to the monetary guarantee. Detainees with minor offenses should be allowed to post bail without such guarantee. Therefore, the financial support from the “Justice Fund” can be extended to larger groups of applicants with more urgent legal needs;
(3) In order to become more efficient in dealing with specific issues, subcommittees with expertise in various fields should be established. The approach will accelerate the overall consideration process of the funding body and will enable a more efficient utilization of the monetary and human resources;
(4) The current objectives of the fund as being stipulated in the Procedure of Ministry of Justice on Justice Fund 2553 B.E. should be amended as followed;
(4.1) the fund should extend/improve its collaboration between other organizations in related fields. This includes both the governmental and non-governmental organizations advocating for alternative crime preventive measure, basic rights awareness and community legal education, etc:
(4.2) the fund should extend the financial support to the applicants during the pre-trial process:
(4.3) the fund should extend the financial support to the legal operators in non-governmental and independent sector and provide sufficient performance assessment to the operators receiving the support from the funding body:
(4.4) in order to ensure high-quality legal service delivery, the fund should determine a practice standard for all lawyers who hold justice fund’s registration. Moreover, the fund should stipulate a standard retainer fee in alignment with the current market price and must not fail to take into consideration the type of cases, experience of lawyers, etc.
(5) Endorse effective and sufficient Public Relations campaign to the wider group of audiences about the current mission and future campaigns;
(6) Reevaluate the efficiency of the outcomes gained from the current approval criteria based on case by case basis and study about the possibility of alternative funding approach such as to provide the backstopping service as well as financial support to non-governmental and independent agencies equipped with more specific expertise.
The official presentation to the Ministry of Justice and Leader of the opposition party was carried out by legal aid experts Associate Prof. Narong Jaiharn, Associate Dean in Research Affairs (TU), Li Saengsanthitam, European Union Project Manager (KAS), Dr.Ronnakorn Boonmee (TU), Senior Researcher and Kanokwan Chartsuwan, Senior Researcher (TU).
The representatives from local CSOs participated during the presentation include Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of Cross Cultural Foundation and Sittipong Chantaraviroj, Chairperson of Muslim Attorney Centre. The recommendations were well-received by high-ranking members of the Justice Ministry which include Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, Deputy Justice Minister Preecha Thananan, Advisor to the Justice Minister Suchon Chaleekrua, Director General of Department of Rights and Liberties Protection
Dr. Narat Sawetanan and Director of Justice Fund Nongporn Ruengpetchwong. The Minister of Justice endorses the proposal into the Ministry’s official agenda. The Department of Rights and Liberties Protection will provide follow-up to the amendments.
On the same date, the research team received an opportunity to present the policy option to the former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and Songkla MP Sirichok Sopha at Democrat Party. The recommendations proposed by the team were well received. The former PM gave a practical suggestion to the team “In order to expedite the impact, the amendment should be carried out in parallel with the reassessment of the implementation of 3 special laws in the Deep-South region”. The leader of the opposition party provides a strong support to the policy option stated that it could be presented as an alternative solution to push forward the reconciliation besides the peace agreement initiative.