SOAS University of London

Centre of East Asian Law

Rule of Law in Thailand

Thailand and the Rule of Law (“Lak Nititham”)

The Centre of East Asian Law (‘CEAL’) is pleased to host the Rule of Law in Thailand project at SOAS, University of London led by Professor Carol Tan.

This project is concerned with the application of the ‘rule of law’ to Thailand[1] and it seeks to engage academically with rule of law issues at a crucial time. The recent trend towards democratic constitutionalism has been interrupted by absolute rule and the protection of human rights under the law has been suspended.

Viewed from a historical standpoint the concept of rule of law might refer simply to the emergence of the idea of limited government. Post Magna Carta the ‘[Rule of law] is a widely used term for a state where the government is bound by the law in its dealings with the citizens; its power is in other words limited by the individual rights of the people.’[2] In the context of modern constitutions this idea has been understood in a number of ways. On the one hand, a separation of powers is nearly always incorporated as part of the overall constitutional design. While, on the other, a concept of the rule of law will be regarded as fundamental to the uniform application of the law; an assumption that all citizens will be treated equally under the law; and the general absence of arbitrary power by the executive organs of the state. At the same time in contemporary constitutions the rule of law has come to be associated with having a series of defendable constitutional rights. It might be argued that such rights are evolving into a universalist concept, reflecting international norms associated with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and so on. But in Thailand there has been an ongoing struggle between authoritarianism and democratization. Is there really a valid case for Asian values or an exceptional Thai way of doing things constitutionally and legally as an alternative to a general trend towards rule of law values, or is the canvassing of such an alternative merely a way of avoiding difficult issues associated with the universal enforcement of law in an unequal society?

The project aims to:

  • enhance SOAS knowledge and capacity in the study and research of East and Southeast Asian Laws with a focus on Thai Law;
  • engage and network with scholars, students, professionals and other stakeholders outside of SOAS who share interests on Thailand; and
  • engage the general public to understand and debate the role and existence of ‘rule of law’ in society.

Some of the issues which will be addressed as part of this project include:

Reviewing mechanisms for the enforcement of constitutional and legal rights; the rule of law, freedom of speech and the reform of the Lèse-majesté law; rule of law and the incorporation of social, economic and trade union rights; representation of the rule of law in culture such as film, literature and media; examining notable court cases, legal or political procedures and other case studies in which the rule of law is mentioned, applied, contested or possibly absent; and examining the rule of law from a comparative perspective: comparing the constitutional and legal approaches as well as political and cultural experience in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Japan.

________________________________________________________________________

 [1]See V Muntarbhorn ‘Rule of Law and aspects of human rights in Thailand: from conceptualization to implementation’ in R Peerenboom (ed) Asian Discourses of Rule of Law (London: Routledge, 2004) and A Harding and P Leyland The Constitutional System of Thailand: A Contextual Analysis (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2011), chapter 8.

[2] Van Caenegem An Historical Introduction to Western Constitutional Law, (Cambridge: Cambridge Universivity Press, 1995) 15.

Project Activities

Upcoming Activities
ASEASUK Conference: Thailand after the Referendum (16 September 2016)
In the past decade, Thailand has seen several regime and constitutional changes which have occurred against a backdrop of continued tension between democracy and authoritarianism. The highly regarded 1997 Constitution came to its formal end following the military coup d’etat in September 2006. Ten years on, the country has once again fallen under military rule. The junta promised a return to civilian rule under a new constitution, which was approved by a so-called referendum in August.
Against this background and recent developments, this panel brings together distinguished experts to discuss issues concerning law, politics, and history in Thailand to debate the key turning points of the past and the future of democracy in Thailand after the referendum.

Roundtable: Thailand after the Referendum (18 September 2016)

The roundtable aims to further the discussion from the ASEASUK panel and will be open to public.

PhD work : The influence of foreign legal philosophies on Sarit Thanarat’s Thai-style democracy and today’s challenge (28 October 2016)

Presenter: Rawin Leelapatana (Ph.D. candidate at University of Bristol Law School)

The presentation aims to explore the extent to which the transplantation of foreign legal philosophies influences Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s despotic paternalism (or the Thai-style democracy (‘TSD’)) and its challenges today. The transplantations of John Austin’s command theory of law and Carl Schmitt’s constitutional theory into Thailand in the 20th century, the author initially argues, significantly foster the perspective that public law is predominantly an instrument for imposing ‘top-down’ state power and even a despotic military rule. Interestingly, at present, a coup d’état together with the implementation of the TSD are still useful tools for the rightist-conservatives to react against the progressive movements. In 2014, General Prayuth Chan-Ocha staged a coup d’état ousting the civilian government led by Yingluck Shinawatra and abolishing parliamentary democracy, which was criticised for inviting perpetual bargaining on equal footing among different political interests without any last word, thus threatening the country’s unity and stability. However, Prayuth, unlike Sarit, faces a greater challenge especially from the mass/civil society. Owing to this changing circumstance, the Thai public law therefore has to increasingly embrace Jürgen Habermas’s view that law is a bridge between the state’s monopoly on power and the public sphere.

PhD work: Thailand's Buddhism in Constitutions (29 November 2016)

Presenter: Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang (Ph.D. candidate at University of Bristol Law School)

Thailand is known for its association with Buddhism. Its constitutional system, while remaining secular, recognizes the superior status of Buddhism. This special relationship leads to a question of what Thailand has gained from this endorsement, and more importantly, another question of how much this relationship has cost the country. Recent incidents indicate that Buddhism might no longer be the source of social cohesion the Thai state often claimed. As Thailand becomes more pluralistic, the special status of Buddhism may work in the opposite direction. This struggle becomes more critical when Thailand is witnessing waning liberal democracy and growing conservative nationalism. This presentation will discuss how Buddhism shapes Thailand’s constitutional law and its effect on individuals and national politics.

Rule of Law in Thailand Panel at the ASEASUK Conference 2016 (September 2016)

A panel on the rule of law in Thailand (Beneath the constitution: everyday conceptions and practices of Thai law and social ordering) is included as part of the ASEASUK Conference at SOAS in September. Submissions in the form of abstracts no longer than a page should be sent to ceal-rolt@soas.ac.uk.
Past Activities
Seminar: Thailand's Deeper State of Crisis? (Wednesday 8 June 2016) 
CEAL is pleased to organise the second event in the SOAS Rule of Law in Thailand Seminar Series with Speakers Eugénie Mérieau and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and discussants Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead and Chaiyan Rajchagool.
Seminar: Human Rights in Thailand - A Failed Transplant? (Tuesday 19 April 2016) 
Following the recent successful launch of the SOAS Rule of Law in Thailand project, CEAL is pleased to organise the first event in the SOAS Rule of Law in Thailand Seminar Series.
Project Launch (Friday 26 February 2016)
CEAL officially launches the project with a panel discussion followed by a reception at the Court Room, Senate House.
Project Pre-launch Seminar (Friday 22 January 2016)
Thai Rule Project Prelaunch photo
As a lead-up to the official launch of the project, CEAL hosted a seminar on the current state of the rule of law in Thailand to review recent developments and contemporary issues faced by Thailand. The seminar began with a welcome and introduction by Dr Sanzhu Zhu, CEAL Chair, followed by opening notes by Professor Peter Leyland who chaired the seminar with contributions from Mr Verapat Pariyawong, Dr Carlo Bonura and Dr Mimi Ajibadé. The project also took note of questions and suggestions from colleagues, students and the general audience who expressed interests in the project.

Useful Links

Thai Law Database - Thailand's Law Reform Commission

Thai Legislation - Thailand's Council of State

Thailand Legal Basics by Tilleke & Gibbins

Freedom of Expression Documentation Center by iLaw

Summaries of Works on Thai Law

The Project welcomes submissions of executive summaries in English of papers or works on Thai law published in Thai language. 

Contacts

Project Director

Professor Carol Tan

Email ceal-rolt@soas.ac.uk 

Project Coordinator

Verapat Pariyawong

Email vp9@soas.ac.uk

 

Social Media

News and activities of the project including videos of past events can be found on the project's Facebook