Types of Civil and Criminal Cases in Thailand

In Thailand, a civil lawsuit involves the claim of damages based on a breach of contract. These include a failure to perform as stipulated in the written contract, supplying defective goods and services, and defamation.

Specialized courts are set up to decide cases involving specific issues. The four specialized courts are the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, the Tax Court, the Labour Court and the Bankruptcy Court. These are Courts of First Instance with specialized judges preside over the case proceedings.

Criminal Cases

All criminal cases in Thailand begin with an accusation. The police and prosecutors have significant power to build a case against you. There is no jury system and it is up to a judge to decide your guilt or innocence and, if found guilty, determine the appropriate sentencing.

In addition to traditional crimes, Thailand is battling a rising problem of cyber-enabled financial crime including romance and Ponzi schemes, online shopping fraud and voice phishing scams. It is also grappling with an escalating issue of fraud involving foreigners by criminal actors in the private sector, who use untraceable mule accounts and international wire transfers to collect proceeds from investment and employment schemes.

The Thai judicial system is structured into courts of first instance, courts of appeal and the Supreme Court. There are a number of provincial variations which impact the size and structure of Provincial Courts. There are four specialized courts, namely the Tax Court, Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, Bankruptcy Court and Labour Court. The specialized courts are made up of career judges and associate judges (laymen recruited separately) with knowledge and expertise in the specific matters that they adjudicate.

Civil Cases

If someone has a grievance against another person, they can bypass the police and prosecutor and bring civil action directly to the court. However, in this case, the court must hold a preliminary “investigative” hearing to determine whether the accusations have merit before allowing the lawsuit to proceed for a full trial.

If the court agrees to hear the case, it will schedule hearing dates for witnesses and the defendant to present their evidence. Since there is no jury system in Thailand, it’s up to the judge presiding over the case to decide whether or not a defendant is guilty.

If a party is unhappy with the court’s decision, they can appeal to the Central Court of Justice and nine Regional Courts of Appeal, which will reaffirm, reverse or amend the original judgment or order. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, only hears appeals on matters of law or points of facts that are significant for the entire country.

Specialized Courts

While the Thai legal system is relatively simple, it can be challenging for foreign companies operating in Thailand. As the country is a dynamic economy, it can be easy for a business to unintentionally fall foul of the law and find themselves facing criminal prosecution.

Generally, a criminal case in Thailand is initiated either by submitting a complaint to the police or directly to the court. In either case, the courts in the districts of a place where the offence was committed, where an accused person resides or was arrested, and where an inquiry official conducted an investigation have jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate the criminal cases.

The criminal appeals are handled by the Court of Appeal and the Regional Courts of Appeal. Appeals are heard by a panel of judges comprising two career judges and one lay judge. A judgment from a lower court may be appealed within a month to the Supreme Court.

Municipal Courts

While criminal cases in Thailand can be complex and lengthy, a seasoned lawyer will work the process to his client’s advantage. This includes avoiding surprises by keeping clients informed of developments and ensuring that their rights are protected throughout the entire process.

There are five criminal courts in Bangkok (Criminal Court, Southern Criminal Court, Thon Buri Criminal Court and Min Buri Provincial Court) and seven Kweang Courts that cover both civil and criminal matters. The latter are characterized by speedy trials with oral or summarized judgments.

Appeals against judgments from the general courts and the municipal courts are handled by the Court of Appeal and nine Regional Courts of Appeal. Specialized courts such as the tax court, central intellectual property and international trade court, bankruptcy court and labor court are staffed by a combination of career judges and lay judges who are recruited from employer federations. These courts require a quorum of two judges to adjudicate disputes.

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