TO COMBAT corruption, agencies in the judicial system should be depoliticised to guarantee fairness and improve credibility, an anti-graft forum was told yesterday.
Although the ruling military-installed government has hyped graft-fighting efforts, people doubt its actions because of its political agenda, Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) project manager Yingcheep Atchanont said.
Yingcheep said strong action had been taken against the Shinawatras only after the coups in 2006 and 2014, when the military managed to seize power.
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has also enacted at least four orders under Article 44 to exempt officers who “followed the NCPO’s order” from being punished, he said.
One of the orders granted protection to government officials working on cases stemming from former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s controversial rice-pledging scheme in 2015.
Often viewed as politically involved, Yingluck’s negligence case, which caused multi-billion-baht damages to the country, ended with Yingluck being sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
She is suspected to be on the run abroad.
“With politics, the NCPO is now viewed to target only special people,” Yingcheep said. “Those on the run are also viewed as heroes rather than culprits.”
Constitutional Court Judge Jaran Pakdeethanakul agreed that politics should not be part of law enforcement. “The anti-political camp will immediately gain the upper hand once they can navigate the police,” Jaran said.
While the naming of the police chief currently needs approval from the prime minister, the judge suggested that the appointment process for such a high-ranking position could be made independent from any political office holder, similar to how prosecutors are selected in the judicial arena.
The forum was organised by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) to discuss how justice could be served regardless of privileged status.
Impunity of the powerful
Jaran compared the judicial system to a cobweb. “It can efficiently catch small insects. But when it comes to big shots, it is torn apart,” he said.
The system is also troubled by social inequality, he said. Low-income people are less able to defend themselves in court even though they may be innocent, causing them to be prosecuted unnecessarily.
The judge praised the new bill on criminal process against political office holders, which allows court proceeding in absentia.
“This means that they can’t just run away to wait for the [statute of limitation to expire]. They have to run for their whole lives should they not want to enter the judicial process,” he said.
He also said the bill’s new concept of using the investigative system instead of letting defendants and plaintiffs gather their own evidence could create more equality for both sides despite their background.
Courts should proceed with cases within six months to one year to prevent defendants from being detained for lengthy terms, he said, adding that if courts needed more time, they should allow defendants to be temporarily released on bail, he said.
To create more fairness, individuals should also be fined proportionately based on their income rather than a fixed amount of money, he added.