Civil and criminal cases are fundamental components of the Thai legal system addressing a broad range of disputes and alleged offenses. Understanding the court system is key to navigating any proceeding.
Thailand has no jury system and it is up to the judge presiding over the case to determine guilt or innocence as well as sentence.
General Courts of First Instance
The Kingdom of Thailand has a civil law system influenced by the United Kingdom’s common law and European (Continental) civil law systems. Civil law systems are inquisitorial, have no trial by jury and use professional judges to decide cases on a case-by-case basis. The Kingdom has a Court of Justice consisting of the Central and nine Regional Courts of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court (Dika).
The General Courts of First Instance are Civil Courts, Criminal Courts and Provincial or District (Kweeng) Courts. They also include Juvenile and Family Courts, as well as Specialized Courts – the Central Intellectual Property Court, Labour Court and Bankruptcy Court.
Each of these courts may have one or three professional judges. They have discretion to transfer cases to another court with territorial jurisdiction or to the Supreme Court for review. Supreme Court decisions can have a significant impact on lower courts and are published in the Government Gazette on a regular basis.
The Thailand court system is comprised of three levels: the Courts of First Instance, the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme (Dika) Court. The Courts of First Instance are the trial courts, and include civil courts, criminal courts and provincial family law courts. The juvenile and family courts are specialized courts that hear cases involving minors or issues related to family matters. The specialized courts include the Labour Court, the Tax Court and the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court. Only career judges preside over these specialized courts.
Civil actions are filed when a party seeks the enforcement or protection of a right, or to prevent or redress wrongs. These cases typically include issues such as business and property disputes, divorces and torts. The Supreme Court handles the highest level of civil and criminal cases in the country. Appeals from any decision of the Courts of First Instance, Court of Appeal or Dika Court can be filed with this court.
Juvenile and Family Courts
In Thailand, a judge decides a case based on the merits of the evidence presented. The court does not rely on a jury system and the cases are heard in the native language (Thai).
In criminal proceedings, children are able to choose whether to testify or not. They are also entitled to legal counsel and can request the assistance of their parents or guardians. However, there are several issues that arise from this:
The Supreme (Dika) Court hears appeals involving questions of law and points of fact. It has exclusive appellate power over cases decided by the Specialized Courts. Unlike other countries, the court does not apply the principle of res judicata. It does, however, often consider the decisions rendered previously. In addition, the Supreme Court will re-hear a case if it finds that the decision was made in error. This may result in a new verdict.
Court of Appeal
In Thailand, a party may appeal against a judgment rendered by a court of first instance or an appellate court. However, no such appeal is available in civil actions involving money or property below the amount of 20,000 Thai baht.
The Appeals Court (Thai: “saaluththrn”) tries appeals from decisions or orders issued by the courts of first instance and the Supreme (Dika) Court. Specialized courts such as the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, Tax Court, Bankruptcy Court and Labor Court are also under its jurisdiction.
Civil cases handled by the Appeals Court include civil disputes over land and businesses, family controversies, divorces, and other issues not falling under the jurisdiction of other specialized courts. Generally, the Appeals Court bases its decision on the documents forwarded by the lower court and the Petition submitted by the parties. It is not required to hold any new hearings or introduce additional evidence. Its rulings are usually delivered within a year.