How to Handle Civil and Criminal Cases in Thailand

Civil cases uphold contractual obligations and property rights, while criminal cases deter crime and ensure that individuals accused of committing crimes are given due process. An experienced local lawyer will be able to help clients navigate the Thai litigation system.

Unlike Western jurisdictions, Thailand’s legal system is based on civil law. Supreme Court decisions, however, influence case law and serve as precedents for judging criminal offences.

Dispute Resolution

In Thailand, courts are based on civil law rather than common law and the country does not practice the doctrine of stare decisis. However, Supreme Court decisions do have some precedential value.

The courts encourage out-of-court dispute resolution and settlements. The courts also have a system of case management hearings where the judge may ask parties to mediate their disputes.

If the case does not settle at the case management hearing, the judge can appoint a conciliator to mediate the dispute. The court has a list of mediators which include judges, private lawyers and former business executives.

Litigation can be lengthy and expensive in Thailand. The court-supervised mediation process is a more cost-effective alternative to litigation. It also results in a quicker resolution and minimizes the number of appeal cases. It is therefore an excellent alternative to litigation. In addition, the conciliation process can result in damages awards (including compensatory and punitive damages). This is often important in personal injury cases where claims for pain and suffering are sought.

Trial Courts

Thai courts essentially encourage all parties to engage in a court-supervised mediation process before proceeding with any kind of civil or criminal litigation. As a result, it is unusual for matters to actually reach trial.

The burden of proof in criminal cases is higher than in common law jurisdictions, requiring the prosecutor to prove an accused defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The public prosecutor must also present all relevant facts and evidence in a case to the judge presiding over the trial.

Currently, there are 11 district courts in Bangkok that hear criminal matters. These additional courts were established to help alleviate the heavy workload of the main Criminal Court in Bangkok. Similarly, the Civil Court has a number of specialty courts focusing on specific issues such as taxation, intellectual property and international trade, labor, etc. The Supreme Court (or Dika Court) hears appeals from decisions given by the Court of Appeals and specialized courts.

Court-Supervised Mediation

In Thailand, just as in many countries around the world, going to court can be a lengthy and costly process. Depending on the nature of the dispute, it may also result in an unsatisfactory outcome.

As such, it is not surprising that Thai lawmakers have been working on strategies to encourage alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options like mediation and arbitration.

Mediation in Thailand is a fairly common practice and is often faster than litigation. ADR is particularly helpful when disputes involve state agencies, as it can shift the focus of justice from a “winner-loser” approach to a more compassionate and healing process for victims.

Under the Dispute Mediation Act of 2019, parties may agree to participate in pre-litigation mediation. In cases that have already been filed in court, however, the law allows the courts to order mediation at their discretion. The courts may even impose a mandatory mediation for certain civil matters such as labour, family and intellectual property.

Prosecution Against Foreign Defendants

In Thailand, a plaintiff in civil cases can seek enforcement or protection of a right or redress of a wrong. Cases involve property and commercial disputes, employment actions, divorces, torts (also known as wrongful acts) and the recovery of debts.

Foreign persons and entities who are not domiciled in Thailand may be sued in Thailand as long as a court asserts jurisdiction. However, the suit may be filed through a lawyer in Thailand and the foreign litigant may reserve personal appearance only when required to testify against the contending party.

Criminal prosecution in Thailand is a serious concern for anyone contemplating doing business or living in the country, especially since bail is rarely granted and prison sentences can be severe. Knowing the laws of Thailand and partnering with lawyers who understand both Thai and international law is essential to a successful outcome in these situations. This report draws on in-person interviews, phone and fax conversations, emails and other correspondence, and an extensive review of Thailand’s laws that criminalize peaceful expression, association, and assembly.

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