Criminal and Civil Courts in Thailand

In Thailand, the court system includes the criminal courts and civil courts. Criminal cases are argued in a hierarchical system, starting with the Court of First Instance.

Civil cases include personal injury, breach of contract and debt recovery. It is important to find a lawyer that speaks your language and understands the local legal system.

Court of First Instance

In Thailand, general civil cases not designated to specialized courts and inheritance proceedings are handled by the Court of First Instance. The Court of First Instance is located in Bangkok and in 110 provinces/districts nationwide including seven Kweang Courts, which cover both civil and criminal matters with limited jurisdiction; and 96 Provincial Courts that handle both civil and criminal cases and 29 Juvenile and Family Courts.

The Court of First Instance hears cases with a panel of one, three or five judges. In criminal cases, the public prosecutor presents evidence to establish the guilt of an accused person and request a punishment from the court. The accused person may plead guilty or not guilty and in some cases the Court of First Instance will reduce a punishment if it finds that there were mitigating circumstances.

The Supreme Court (Dika) has the right to review cases decided by the Court of Appeal and some specialized courts, but it does not have the power to overrule its earlier decisions. Unlike the common law practice in most countries, judicial precedent is not binding on lower courts in Thailand. However, Supreme Court decisions do have a considerable influence on the Dika and lower courts.

Court of Appeal

Aside from criminal prosecution, the courts also deal with civil actions filed by parties claiming infringement of their rights. These cases typically involve property and business disputes, personal domestic controversies, divorces, torts, and other legal actions that involve rights and obligations of individuals or companies.

Civil proceedings in Thailand begin either by submitting a complaint to the police or directly filing an action with the court. A judge will then schedule the first hearing. During the trial, each party will present their arguments and evidence in an open courtroom.

The current law allows parties to appeal any decision from the court of first instance to the Court of Appeal and subsequently the Supreme (Dika) Court. However, this often results in unnecessary appeals and backlogs in the Thai Supreme Court. In order to address this, an Act has been introduced that will require all Supreme Court appeals involving questions of law be previously evaluated. Moreover, the Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases has been established to hear appeals against decisions rendered by the Tax Court, Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, Labor Court, and Bankruptcy Court.

Criminal Court

While Thailand is a vibrant economy and many companies are actively engaged in its markets, it’s still possible that you or your company may run afoul of the country’s law. As such, you need to be aware of how the country’s judicial system functions so that you can make informed choices and take appropriate steps in the event you become the subject of criminal proceedings.

The Kingdom’s judicial system includes courts of first instance, Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court (Dika). There are also specialized courts such as labor courts, family courts, juvenile courts and international trade courts.

The criminal court is an inquisitorial system, with judges hearing cases. The presiding judge is responsible for determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant and deciding the sentence in case of conviction. Unlike the United States and Europe, Thailand does not have a jury system. A judge is free to ignore or give little weight to defense witnesses and evidence.

Civil Court

Disputes between private parties in civil matters are handled by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal. Unlike in the US, there are no jury trials in Thailand. Instead, a judge decides the case based on the evidence presented.

Moreover, the judiciary encourages settlement of cases through a procedure known as court-supervised mediation, and will set the matter in motion if it determined that compromise is unlikely. The court will schedule a preliminary hearing to identify issues and facilitate the process of mediation.

The courts of first instance are divided into general courts, juvenile and family courts, and specialized courts. Any party that loses a verdict from these courts may file an appeal to the Court of Appeals. The Appellate Court has the power to reaffirm, dismiss, or reverse the decision of the court that rendered the verdict. The Supreme Court (Dika) is the highest court that hears appeals on questions of fact and law if one of the Court of Appeal judges dissents or certifies that reasonable grounds exist for the Dika to review the matter.

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