THE COUNCIL of State is considering adjusting the definition of certain criminal offences so they are punishable by administrative penalties rather than jail.
The move is due to the high number of criminal cases that are overwhelming the court system and overcrowding jails nationwide.
Criminal Code Amendment Committee member and legal expert Pokpong Srisanit spoke at Bangkok’s Berkeley Hotel Pratunam yesterday at a council-hosted seminar about the criteria for criminal offences in the legal code.
Pokpong said Section 77 of the 2017 Constitution stipulated that criminal punishments should apply only for serious cases, and the committee concurred that Thailand was suffering from a persistent increase in criminal cases.
That has led to several negative impacts, including people losing their fear of the law, courts being overwhelmed by criminal lawsuits, inmates crowding prisons and petty offenders unnecessarily having to live with a criminal history, Pokpong said.
All these impacts incurred costs to society, he said, adding that Thailand ranked sixth in the world in terms of the number of criminal suspects involved in the judicial process, at about 300,000 people.
The state reportedly spends about Bt100,000 per criminal case – including the wages of police, judges and related officials – and only Bt6,000 per civil lawsuit, according to a study by Thailand Development Research Institute, Pokpong said.
To save costs, the state should enforce other laws to punish wrongdoers, he said. While serious crimes such as theft and murder must still be subject to criminal prosecution, he said other offences, such as those involving cheque payments or copyright infringement, could be punished by administrative penalties to save the country money.
Another committee member, Prathan Wattanawanich, said the criminal code suffered from an “inflation” in terms of jailable offences, which stemmed from lawmakers’ unfamiliarity with administrative penalties.
He recognised Section 77 as a key step towards change for the better, although he added that one of the challenges would be in making relevant officers understand administrative penalties.
Another committee member, Surasak Likhasitwattanakul, said that not all of society was keen to abide by the law, but people did fear being caught by the police. Society had not yet clearly addressed the issue of which offences should be criminal, Surasak added.
With the Section 77 guideline that only serious offences be deemed criminal, lawmakers needed to study a framework for the definition of criminality, he added. His own suggestion was that serious crimes were those that impacted society as a whole.