Introduction to the Legal System and Legal Research of the Kingdom of Thailand
By Joe Leeds
Joe Leeds is the manager of the Thailand law firm of Chaninat & Leeds.† He has been working as a consultant and manager in Thailand since 1995 and is licensed to practice law in the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Federal District.
Published November/December 2008
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Table of Contents
2.1. Legislative Branch
2.2. Executive Branch
2.3. Judicial Branch
††††††††††††††††† 2.3.1. The Constitutional Court
††††††††††††††††† 2.3.2. The Courts of Justice
†††††††† 220.127.116.11. The Supreme Court of Justice
†††††††††††††††††††††††† 18.104.22.168. The Courts of Appeal
†††††††††††††††††††††††† 22.214.171.124. The Courts of First Instance
††††††††††††††††† 2.3.3. The Administrative Courts
††††††††††††††††† 2.3.4. The Military Courts
3.1 The Constitution
3.2 Codified Laws
The Kingdom of Thailand is a civil law country with strong common law influences.† Modern Thai law dates back to the reign of King Rama V (1868-1910), who enacted many reforms of the Thai legal system, such as the elimination of trial by ordeal, and the establishment of the Ministry of Justice and the first law school in Thailand.† King Rama V (also known as King Chulalongkorn) also began the process of codifying Thai law, and the Thai Penal Code was enacted in 1908.† Many of these reforms were overseen by King Rama V's fourteenth son, Prince Rapee Pattanasak, who is considered to be the father of the modern Thai legal system.† The codification and modernization/westernization of Thai law were continued under the reigns of King Rama VI (1910-1925) and King Rama VII (1925-1935). †An analysis of the social changes influencing the Reformation of Thailand Law can be found on the Thailand Law Forum website.
The Kingdom of Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932.† There have been eighteen constitutions, with the current Constitution having been enacted on August 24, 2007.† Under the constitution, the King is the head of state and exercises his sovereign powers through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Courts.† An article summarizing the basic structure of the Thailand government is available online.
Legislative power is exercised by the National Assembly, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.† The House of Representatives has 480 members who serve four year terms.† 400 members are elected directly from 157 multi-representative constituencies.† The remaining 80 members are elected from party lists, and are chosen on the basis of the proportion of votes cast by constituents in eight groupings of provinces.† The Senate has 150 members who serve six year terms.† Each of 76 provinces elects one member.† The remaining 74 members are selected by the Senators Selective Committee from persons nominated by organizations in the academic, public, private and other sectors.
The constitution provides for the enactment of the following organic acts:
(1) Organic Act on Election of Members of the House of Representatives and Obtaining Senators;
(2) Organic Act on Election Commission;
(3) Organic Act on Political Parties;
(4) Organic Act on Referendum;
(5) Organic Act on Rules and Procedures of the Constitutional Court;
(6) Organic Act on Criminal Proceedings Against Persons Holding Political Positions;
(7) Organic Act on Ombudsmen;
(8) Organic Act on Counter Corruption; and
(9) Organic Act on State Audit.
An organic law bill may be introduced only by:
(1) the Council of Ministers;
(2) at least one-tenth of the members of the House of Representatives or one-tenth of the members of the National Assembly; or
(3) the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice or an independent constitutional organ, where the President of such Court or independent organ has charge and control of the execution of such organic act.
A vote of the majority of members of each House of the National Assembly is required for the promulgation of any organic law.
A bill other than an organic law bill may be introduced by:
(1) the Council of Ministers;
(2) at least twenty members of the House of Representatives;
(3) a Court or an independent constitutional organ, but only in respect of a law that is concerned with institutional organization or a law the execution of which the President of such Court or such organ has charge and control; or
(4) persons having the right to vote of not less than ten thousand in number, on matters relating to rights and liberties or fundamental state policies;
Provided that bills introduced under (2), (3) or (4) that are money bills are also endorsed by the Prime Minister.
A vote of a majority of a quorum of each House of the National Assembly is required for the promulgation of any law other than an organic law.
The King's approval is required to promulgate any law; however, if the King does not approve a law, it may still be promulgated with the votes of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.
The head of the government is the Prime Minister.† The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are responsible for the administration of state affairs and establishing government policies.† The Council of Ministers may propose legislation for consideration by the National Assembly, and the endorsement of the Prime Minister is required for the introduction of money bills.
The King appoints the Prime Minister and up to thirty-five additional Ministers, who comprise the Council of Ministers.† The Prime Minister must be a member of the House of Representatives and must have the approval of a majority of members of the House of Representatives.† The Prime Minister my not hold office for more than eight consecutive years.
The King may, with the approval of the Council of Ministers, issue emergency decrees having the force of law, for the purpose of maintaining national or public safety, maintaining national economic security, or averting public calamity.† The King may also issue emergency decrees if a law on taxes, duties or currency, requiring urgent and confidential consideration, is necessary.† Emergency decrees must be submitted to the National Assembly for consideration without delay.
The King may also, inter alia, issue royal decrees not contrary with law, declare and lift martial law in accordance with the Martial Law, declare war (with the approval of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly) and enter into treaties (with the approval of the National Assembly in the case of material treaties).
The Courts have responsibility for trying and adjudicating cases.† The constitution expressly provides for four types of courts:† the Constitutional Court, the Courts of Justice, the Administrative Courts and the Military Courts.
The Constitutional Court has eight members, who are appointed by the King with the advice of the Senate, and serve one nine-year term.† The members of the Constitutional Court consist of three judges of the Supreme Court of Justice, elected by the general assembly of the Supreme Court of Justice, two judges from the Supreme Administrative Court, elected at a general assembly of the Supreme Administrative Court, and four individuals (two experts in the field of law and two experts in a field of social science) nominated by a selection committee and approved either by a two-thirds vote of the Senate or, if not approved by the Senate, by the unanimous vote of a selection committee.† The judges of the Constitutional Court elect one of their members to be the President of the Constitutional Court.† The Constitutional court has an independent secretariat with autonomy in personnel administration, budgeting and other activities.
The Constitutional Court has jurisdiction to determine whether the provisions of any law, rule or regulation are contrary to or inconsistent with the Constitution.† Decisions of the Constitutional Court are not subject to appeal by any other court.
Courts of Justice adjudicate all cases except where otherwise specified in the Constitution or other laws.† There are three levels of Courts of Justice:† Courts of First Instance, Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Justice.† The Courts of Justice have an independent secretariat with autonomy in personnel administration, budgeting and other activities.† Judges in the Courts of Justice are appointed and removed by the King with the approval of the Judicial Commission of the Courts of Justice.
The Supreme Court of Justice has jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate appeals from the Courts of Appeal and from the specialized courts of the Courts of First Instance.† The Supreme Court can hear appeals on questions of law and, in certain cases, on questions of fact.† The Supreme Court of Justice has original jurisdiction in cases involving the removal or revocation of the right to vote of members of the National Assembly.
The Constitution provides that the Supreme Court of Justice shall have a Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions to hear cases brought by, or against, members of the National Counter Corruption Commission. The Supreme Court of Justice also has original jurisdiction in those cases.
The Supreme Court of Justice has many other divisions dealing with specific types of cases.† A quorum consists of three judges, but for exceptional cases, a plenary session (with a quorum consisting of a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court) may be called.
The Courts of Appeal consist of the Court of Appeal and nine regional Courts of Appeal.† They have jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate appeals from judgments and orders of the Courts of First Instance, and can hear appeals on both questions of law and fact.† In addition, the Courts of Appeal have original jurisdiction in cases involving the removal or revocation of the right to vote of any member of a local assembly or any local administrator, and the judgment of the Courts of Appeal in such cases is final.† A quorum of three judges generally hears each appeal.
The Courts of First Instance are the trial courts.† There are three types of Courts of First Instance:† general courts, juvenile and family courts, and specialized courts.† General courts have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases, and are divided into Civil Courts, Criminal Courts, Provincial Courts and Kwaeng Courts.† The juvenile and family courts hear and adjudicate cases involving a minor, and consist of the Central Juvenile and Family Court, the Provincial Juvenile and Family Courts, and the Division of Juvenile and Family Court in the Provincial Courts.† The specialized courts consist of the Labour Court, the Tax Court, the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and the Bankruptcy Court.† Juries are not used in trials.
2.3.3. The Administrative Courts
The Administrative Courts have jurisdiction to try and adjudicate cases between (i) a government entity or official and (ii) a private individual or another government entity or official. †Such cases must be a consequence of the exercise of an administrative power under the law or a consequence of a pursuit of an administrative act by a government entity or official. Administrative Courts do not have jurisdiction over the direct exercise by a constitutional organ of powers granted to it under the Constitution.† The Administrative Courts have an independent secretariat with autonomy in personnel administration, budgeting and other activities.
The Military Courts have jurisdiction to try and adjudicate criminal cases against persons subject to the jurisdiction of the Military Courts.
The Constitution provides for the following independent constitutional organs:
(1) the Election Commission;
(2) the Ombudsmen;
(3) the National Counter Corruption Commission; and
(4) the State Audit Commission.
The Constitution also provides for the following additional constitutional organs:
(1) Public Prosecutors;
(2) the National Human Rights Commission; and
(3) the National Economic and Social Council.
Constitutional organs have autonomy in personnel, budgeting and other activities as provided by applicable law.
The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the Constitution is the supreme law of the country.† The Constitution is a lengthy document and provides for the powers of the King, the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the Courts, and Constitutional Organs.† The Constitution also includes provisions outlining the rights, liberties and duties of the people, and enumerates directive principles of fundamental state policies relating to e.g. national security, social and cultural affairs, foreign affairs, the economy and the environment.† The Constitution may be amended by vote of more than one-half of the members of the National Assembly, with the approval of the King, or if the King shall not approve the amendment, by vote of not less than two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.† Amendments changing the form of government are not permitted.† A discussion of the Thailand Constitution of 1997 can be found on the Thailand Law Forum website.
The fundamental laws that form the backbone of Thai law have been codified into four codes:† the Civil and Commercial Code, the Penal Code, the Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
The Civil and Commercial Code includes provisions relating to general principles, obligations, contract law, property law, family law and the law of succession.† The provisions relating to general principles are particularly significant because they are often applied to laws outside the Civil and Commercial Code.
The Land Code (1954) was the first major legislation systemizing land laws in Thailand.
Many important social and economic laws are embodied in Acts, which are laws adopted by the National Assembly, either with the approval of the King or, in the event the King does not approve a bill, with the approval of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.
Under the current Constitution, the King may enter into treaties with other countries and international organizations, but treaties that change the territories over which the Kingdom of Thailand has sovereignty or jurisdiction require the enactment of an Act for their implementation. †Any other material treaties must be approved by the National Assembly.† These provisions do not affect the implementation of treaties entered into before August 24, 2007.
Arbitration provisions are permitted by the Arbitration Act B.E. 2530 (1987).† A research paper on arbitration in Thailand can be found on the Thailand Law Forum website.
Bankruptcies are governed by, inter alia, the Bankruptcy Act B.E. 2483 (1940), as amended by the Bankruptcy Act (No. 7) B.E. 2547 (2004).† An article explaining the unique role of Thailandís Bankruptcy Courts is published in the Thailand Law Forum website.†
The protection of the environment is governed by, inter alia, the National Environmental Protection and Promotion Act B.E. 2535 (1992).† This act is administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
Intellectual property rights are governed by, inter alia, the Copyright Act B.E. 2537 (1994), the Patent Act B.E. 2522 (1979), as amended by the Patent Act (No. 2) B.E. 2535 (1992) and the Patent Act (No. 3) B.E. 2542 (1999), and the Trademark Act, B.E. 2534 (1991), as amended by the Trademark Act (No. 2) B.E. 2543 (2000).† The Kingdom of Thailand is a signatory of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (with certain reservations) and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Patent Cooperation Treaty, but is not a signatory of the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations or the Universal Copyright Convention.† These laws are administered by the Department of Intellectual Property under the Ministry of Commerce.
Labor laws are provided by, inter alia, the Labour Relations Act 1975, the Act of Establishment of Labour Courts and Labour Court Procedure 1979, the Provident Fund Act 1987, the Social Security Act 1990, the Compensation Fund Act 1994 and the Labour Protection Act 1998.
Financial institutions are regulated by, inter alia, Financial Institutions Businesses Act B.E. 2551(2008), as amended, the Life Insurance Act B.E. 2535 (1992) and the Casualty Insurance Act B.E. 2535 (1992), the Act Forbidding the Charging of Interest at Excessive Rates B.E. 2475 (1932), and the Interest on Loans by Financial Institutions Act B.E. 2523 (1980).† Financial institutions are also subject to regulation by the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Thailand.
The issuance and trading of securities is governed by, inter alia, the Securities and Exchange Act B.E. 2535 (1992), which provides for the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission.† Derivatives contracts and markets are governed by, inter alia, the Derivatives Act B.E. 2546 (2003) and are also subject to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The business operations of foreigners in Thailand are governed by the Foreign Business Act B.E. 2542 (1999).
In the Kingdom of Thailand, judicial precedent is not binding on lower courts.† The Supreme Court of Justice is not bound to follow its own decisions, and lower courts are not bound to follow precedents set by higher courts.† In practice, however, the decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice do have significant influence on the Supreme Court of Justice itself and on lower courts.† A selection of Thailand Supreme Court published decisions are updated on the Thailand Law Forum website.
Government Gazette – All Acts, Royal Decrees, Ministerial Orders, Regulations and official government notices are published in the Government Gazette.†
Codes, Acts, Treaties and Judgments – The website of the Law Reform Commission of the Council of State includes a searchable database with the following data:
Constitutional Court – The website for the Constitutional Court provides Court Rulings for 1998 and summaries of rulings for 1999-2003 in English.
Courts of Justice – Selected Acts and Rules relating to the Courts of Justice are available from the Courts of Justice website.
Various Thailand Acts and Regulations are available in the database section of Thailand Law Forum website.
5. Treatises and Law Reviews
Thailand Law Forum (has a database of selected laws, summaries of opinions of the Supreme Court, legal news and a law journal)
AsianLII (has links to the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions, legislation, Constitutional Court decisions, Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court decisions)
NATLEX (labor laws)
Energy Policy & Planning Office Thai Government Links (website directory of Thai government offices)
Thailand Law Source (has legal news, articles and a database of selected laws.