Cabinet decree referred to the Constitutional Court concerning the handling of domestic abuse cases in Thailand and the suspension of a law handing jurisdiction of such matters over to social service agencies, was questioned by the opposition and will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

A Royal decree agreed by the Thai cabinet on August 26th and referred this week to the Constitutional Court could trigger the collapse of the current Thai government and the dissolution of the House of Representatives if the judges rule against the executive. This was the warning issued this week by respected legal expert and deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

Thailand’s influential and cannily accurate deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has warned this week that a move by the opposition to refer a cabinet decree to suspend an amendment to the 2007 law on domestic violence in Thailand to the Constitutional Court could lead to the collapse of the government and perhaps a dissolution of the House of Representatives if the court rules against it.

In a hectic political week for the government which saw controversy rage around a junior minister accused of having a criminal record in Australia to the decision by the Constitutional Court to stay out of the matter of the prime minister’s oath-taking wrangle, less sensational but perhaps more precarious legal jeopardy may yet be facing the government and even the new parliament.

Court review could have grave political repercussions

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said this week that a Constitutional Court review of a royal decree approved by the cabinet on August 26th last may prove critical to the survival of both the government and the House of Representatives.

Law passed by the old National Legislative Assembly to amend Thailand’s 2007 law on domestic abuse

The issue revolves around Thailand’s domestic abuse laws. A landmark bill covering domestic abuse has been in force since 2007. It mirrors similar advances and progressive reforms on women’s rights in western countries in that it makes domestic violence a matter subject to police authority and the criminal justice system.

It should be noted that while this is the law in Thailand, in practice police are very reluctant to take on such cases or intervene in family matters based on traditional cultural values which are still very strong in Thai society. This, of course, draws forth the ire of women’s groups in Thailand and human rights activists.

Women’s rights in Thailand moving forward slowly 

As it stands, the decision relating to police intervention is one made according to the judgment of local officers and prosecutors depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the incident. However, just like it happened in western countries, there are more Thai women particularly in the country’s rising urban middle-class availing of the legal remedies which the law allows.

Proposal suspended by the cabinet would have seen social workers adjudicate on domestic violence cases

Under the previous junta government, the old National Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the 2007 law which set out the to have domestic violence incidents not initially referred to the police but instead handled by social workers and government officials at the Social Security and Human Security department. The bill specifically handed investigation of domestic abuse cases over to the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development. 

The amendment envisaged resolutions being reached within families under the adjudication and control of officers from Thailand’s social services to prevent such cases entering the criminal justice system.

Amendment by National Legislative Assembly vigorously opposed by women’s rights groups

Naturally, the amendment has been attacked and opposed by women’s equality groups and rights activists. However, on August 26th last, the Thai cabinet passed the royal decree to suspend the legislation passed by the former National Legislative Assembly and specified that the current 2007 law should stay in force.

Deputy Minister Wissanu explained this week that the move came about because ministers felt that the government was not capable at present of implementing the new amendment which would essentially call for investigations into each case as it arose by officials.

It was felt that social workers were not yet properly trained to carry out what would otherwise be a criminal investigation role or to adjudicate on such matters. There is also a problem with the numbers of trained professionals currently available in each province right now.

2007 law affirms domestic violence as a non-compoundable offence – women’s rights activists want to keep it that way

In Thailand, offences are categorised as to whether they are compoundable or non-compoundable infractions. Compoundable offences give latitude to the complainant or victim in seeking court redress meaning many cases can be settled or withdrawn once an understanding or arrangement has been reached provided there has been no serious personal injury or offences against a third party or the public.

Under the present 2007 law, all cases of assault resulting from domestic abuse cases are strictly non-compoundable offences meaning the abuser must face court if an official criminal complaint is received and acted upon by police and prosecutors.

The amendment passed by the National Legislative Assembly sought to change that but under the August 26th cabinet decree, its provisions were suspended temporarily because the government in cabinet considered its implementation impractical. Under the cabinet decree, that decision was also to come before the Thai parliament for a vote.

Government agencies not ready yet said Deputy PM this week as he explained reasons for decree

Mr Wissanu said that there was currently only one qualified social worker to handle such cases in each province whereas at least four would be required. ‘Between 2007-2019, there were more than 10,000 domestic violence cases. So maybe we should set up a new department to handle the cases,’ he speculated this week.

Opposition move to have the decree referred to the Constitutional Court succeeded

On Tuesday, September 3rd the opposition in the House of Representatives after petitioning the House Speaker Chuan Leekpai moved to have the cabinet decree of August 26th referred to the Constitutional Court.

A legal affairs expert for Pheu Thai Chusak Sirinil had earlier pointed out that the issue of a royal decree could only be made in events impacting national security, economic security or natural disasters to preserve public safety. The opposition parties mustered the 100 votes required or 20% of the house to have the decree referred fro Constitutional Court for scrutiny.

The court decision could lead to the resignation of the government and house dissolution

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu this week has said that while the government had consulted with all relevant public officials and considered the matter an appropriate one for a royal decree, a repudiation of the cabinet decision could well mean the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the House of Representatives.