Contempt and Freedom of Speech
Share this on

Contempt and Freedom of Speech

Awzar Thi at Rule of Lords blogs on contempt of court:
/>

Many people have expressed genuine concern about the expanded role of the judiciary under Thailand’s new army-backed constitution, which was pushed through a referendum and passed into law this August.
/>
/>Three top judges are now obliged to sit on panels that will select around half of the senate, as well as have more say on appointments to independent bodies: among them the commissions for elections, state audits and human rights. The Supreme Court has been given new powers to step into electoral disputes, and also to appoint interim members to the counter-corruption agency.
/>

Around the world, judicial officers enjoy special defenses against attacks on their professional and institutional integrity. In Thailand, harsh penalties for contempt of court and criminal libel have helped to dampen public criticism not only of court rulings but of the work done by judges in general.

However, there have been times that widespread argument over big cases has spilled back into the courts. For instance, after three former election commissioners were jailed in 2006, eleven of their supporters were given suspended jail terms for contempt, and warned that they could face further charges if they did not shut up. The lawyer of the then-prime minister was also found guilty of contempt after giving a negative opinion of the verdict in an interview.

Such rulings have made latent critics justifiably afraid of openly confronting Thailand’s courts. Now that judges have an enlarged and increasingly prescribed political role on top of their judicial responsibilities, many wonder how far public debate on their work will be allowed and what the consequences may be, both for the country’s judiciary and for its degraded political system.

So let’s be clear on at least one thing. Without regard to other factors, the criticizing of judges is not only legitimate, but also necessary for a robust and responsive judiciary. Criticism of court is not synonymous with contempt of court.

/>COMMENT: The authorities are not listening though as Prachatai reports:
/>

A website on Thai law closed itself down permanently after the Crime Suppression Division sent a letter to an internet service provider, asking for information about the website in connection with alleged contempt of court.
/>
/>Criminal Court Judge Director-General Jirawan Suyanwanitkul filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division on July 5, 2007, to prosecute the webmaster of http://www.thaijustice.com/ for committing and supporting acts in contempt of court.
/>…
/>It was understood that the case relates to certain comments posted on the webboard, criticizing past judgments and actions of the court over controversial political issues, including the verdict to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai party and retroactively ban its executives from politics, and the court’s involvement in the arrest of anti-coup leaders a few weeks ago.

COMMENT: With the new power that members of the judiciary will have, will we be able to criticise their decisions?