JUSTICE in Thailand in the eyes of many Thai people can seem to have a protean value. It seems this value can often be equated to the wealth and power of whom it serves. This is widely acknowledged in a country whose civilians accept corruption to be a part of everyday life. A learned helplessness hangs over most Thai citizens, to the point that social progress is held in less esteem than getting ahead on your own terms, even if that involves being corrupt. It’s well-known – the Bangkok Post gives some examples here – that with enough money one can mold his own kind of justice in Thailand. Without wealth, the justice system can often be a very unpleasant place to navigate if you should find yourself unfortunate enough to be caught up in it.
That said, over the last decade or so, certainly since Thais have been able to vent their frustrations via social media – with the added confidence of anonymity – groups and individuals have made their presence known decrying double standards and obese social-inequality in Thailand. The latest case to provoke the ire of many Thais was a car crash in Ayutthaya that resulted in the deaths of two young people both taking Master’s degrees at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University’s Faculty of Buddhism. The driver of the car, Jenphop Weeraporn, is reported to have driven his Mercedes into the back of the two students’ Ford Fiesta at 250kph, resulting in a fire that killed the two.
The video below shows just how fast Weeraporn was driving:
Many Thais have stated on social media that this will be another case in which a wealthy citizen gets away with what looks like a heinous mistake. This is in spite of reckless driving charges that police say will adhere to the laws of justice. There’s also a possibility of a charge for driving under the influence as anxiety/depression medicine was found in the car. He was not breathalyzed, or tested for other drugs, after reportedly refusing to undergo the breath test. The driver will be charged with obstruction of justice. He also refused a blood test at the hospital, it was reported.
Perhaps indicative of the lack of trust in justice and equality concerning this matter is the Change.org campaign in which 2,184 people (4 days ago) have already signed a petition in the hope that justice will be served in this case.
The recent crash involving a person from an influential and powerful family brought back memories of a crash involving one of the most powerful families in Thailand. That being the case of the young Red Bull heir, Vorayudh ‘Boss’ Yoovidhya, who allegedly drove his Ferrari into a policeman’s bike in the early hours in Bangkok in 2012. The policeman died. According to reports Vorayudh dragged the body down the street and drove home. The suspect was in Singapore when he didn’t even turn up to hear the indictments against him in 2013. The Red Bull fortune was reported to be around 2.1 per cent of Thailand’s GDP in 2012.
According to a recent report in the Bangkok Post, the case is still being investigated due to the suspect demanding fair treatment and justice. “The statute of limitations of the two charges are 15 years and five years,” according to the Post, although it looks as though the case will take some time to reach a verdict as the original persecutor for the case reportedly died, leading to a new set of prosecutors working on the case. National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda called for clarification this week on why the investigation has taken so long.
Another stark memory in the collective Thai conscious was the case of a Thai 17-year-old girl called Orachorn ‘Praewa’ Thephasadin na Ayudhya who crashed her car on one of Bangkok’s tollways causing the death of nine people and injuring 19 others in 2010. Orachorn was also from a very wealthy family.
She was given 48 hours community service each year for four years, although the girl, now 23, was recently accused of breaching the order by a probation department chief. She denied not having met her community service requirements, and had her story backed-up by the hospital director of where she was supposed to be working.
“Pol Col Narat argued that the department did not send Ms Chanchanok to the hospital and a committee was being formed to investigate into the matter,” it was reported in the Bangkok Post. The girl or her family, without permission it seems, may have chosen the place she did or didn’t do her community service.
The three cases alone have resulted in 12 deaths, and so far not one hour of a prison term has been served – in the case of the most recent tragedy many Thai people are now wondering about the dependability of Thai justice. In the U.K. causing death by reckless driving could carry a sentence of up to 14 years, but long sentences are rare. Even so, where speeds of 200kph are concerned, or a hit and run in the middle of the night, possible intoxication, perhaps more than compensation or community service is a required repellant to thwart reckless driving.
Settlements can be made to the families of the deceased, as was the case with British-Thai actress Anna ‘Reese’ Hambawaris who gave an undisclosed sum to the family of a policeman she had run into and killed in her Mercedes Benz. She had at first refused to pay the 5 million baht the family asked for, and offered 2 million. A criminal case is underway in which the actress is charged with reckless driving leading to the death of others.
No accountability = more road deaths
Thailand has an exceptionally high number of roads accidents each year leading to death – the second worst in the world according to recent reports. This last month or two has been particularly bad with at least five bus crashes causing deaths throughout Thailand.
There are many reasons for the dangers of driving on Thai roads, the latter bus tragedies could be said to be a result of low wage-earning drivers working long hours driving irresponsibly; or lack of bus maintenance by companies cutting costs for more gain. We could blame dangerous, ill-maintained roads. We could ascribe lack of driving skills to other crashes, or perhaps in the cases above we could blame irresponsible people driving recklessly under the auspices of impunity. The issue is complex, but the fact people are rarely held accountable, or that solutions so often are myopic, or ill-defined, or quasi-enforced, is a long-standing problem.
Perhaps even the law is accountable for breaching human rights; perhaps some laws are antediluvian. If you can cause death as a result of your own wayward actions and get away with it, what does it say about justice? When a poor, and old, couple picking wild mushrooms in a protected forest are sentenced to 15 years in prison – they were charged with illegal logging after being advised by a lawyer to plead guilty, and the sentence was reduced from 30 years – how will the majority interpret justice? The couple were eventually freed after 17 months, but only after an Internet campaign and public outcry. Even now, their ordeal is still not over. In juxtaposition to the deaths caused by reckless driving, it might seem to some justice has an oddball way of going about manifesting itself.
We mustn’t forget that while the families of the rich can take the lives of others and seemingly get away with it, the Thai truck driver that hit and killed two British cyclists in 2014 was given, “a suspended two-year prison sentence and fined around $30.” Is it time Thailand became serious about reckless driving? Seeing that road deaths account for so much loss of life, sadness, possible economic hardship for victims’ families, should stricter laws and an onus on driving education (responsibility as a driver, not just driving skills) be implemented, and implemented fairly? This might help reduce the epidemic of road deaths in Thailand.