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Thailand - Legal System
The Courts of First Instance cover several different types of court. These include the general courts, the juvenile courts, family courts and courts that have different roles. The general courts deal with both criminal and civil cases. In most general courts it is required that at least two judges form a quorum. Civil cases need to be heard in the civil court of that region, although some regions have more than one in order to cope with the workload. In criminal proceedings the cases are heard in the court of the area in which the accused person lives or in which they were arrested.
The municipal courts have the task of dealing with straightforward cases quickly. This covers both criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases in which the maximum punishment is three years in prison or a fine of not more than 60,000 THB can be heard in the municipal courts. Civil cases must involve a claim of not more than 300,000 THB. Trials heard here are simple and straightforward with an oral judgment issued by the judge.
Juvenile and family courts are presided over by two judges with legal training and two associate judges. One of the associate judges must be a woman. In addition to this there are four specialist courts. These are the Labour Court, the Tax Court, the court of Intellectual Property and International Trade and the Bankruptcy Court. These courts were established so that specific problems could be presided over by an experienced judge in that field. The judges are only appointed if they have specialist knowledge in that area. In the Labour Court and the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court associate judges work alongside the experienced judges.
The next stage after these courts is the Court of Appeal. There is a main court based in Bangkok and this is supported by 9 regional courts of appeal. The main court will hear appeals against judgments issued in the civil and criminal courts and the regional courts will handle the appeals against cases heard in the Courts of the First Instance. All appeal court cases are heard by the President of the Court, who is assisted by his Vice Presidents. Each division of the court has a chief justice and two other justices. Appeal courts have research divisions which are headed by judges. These judges assist the hearing judges.
The final stage in the legal process in Thailand is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is staffed by a president, vice presidents, a number of justices and a secretary. There are several divisions each with three justices. As for the court of appeal there is a research division. Within the Supreme Court there is also a court which can deal with criminal matters for those who are high up in government.
Thailand has four types of judge. The Career Judge must be of Thai nationality, a member of the Bar Association and have worked for a minimum of two years in the legal profession. A career judge will spend one year as a trainee. Then the final appointment must be approved by the King. A Senior Judge is a career judge who has reached the age of 60. The will work only in the Courts of the First Instance and can continue to work until they reach the age of 70. A Lay Judge will carry out duties in the specialist courts. These are usually experts in their field who will work with the career judges. A lay judge will not hold the position for ever, it is similar to a term of office and the length of the term will vary according to the type of court. A Kadi is an expert on Islamic matters who will work in cases concerning members of the Muslim population.
The way in which the legal system in Thailand operates is very similar to that in the US and the UK with the different types and levels of court.
There are some law firms in Thailand which have English speaking lawyers although this is not always the case. The best way to find a lawyer is to ask for personal recommendations. It is advised that you do not wait for a problem before you find a lawyer, but begin to make enquiries when you move to the country as this can save a lot of time later. The Thai Bar Association does keep listings of lawyers.
The Thai Bar Association
http://www.thethaibar.org/index.aspx (site in Thai)
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