The Secretary-General of Future Forward Party, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, has revealed that the judge had been in contact with him since September voicing his concerns about the criminal justice system and Friday’s case which he wanted to be made public. On Saturday, the Secretary-General of the Courts of Justice in Thailand, Sarawut Benjakul, strongly defended the impartiality of the law in Thailand and the independence of the judiciary. He referred the issue to a judicial commission for a review.
A presiding judge at a criminal trial in Yala province on Friday attempted to kill himself after he acquitted five defendants before the court, three of whom faced the death penalty if convicted. He then launched into an astonishing review of the case in which he suggested he was strongly influenced to find the defendants guilty. The judge criticised the current procedure of finalising verdicts in Thailand as well as working conditions for judges before take out a 9mm revolver and shooting himself in an attempted suicide in full view of the court.
A disturbing incident in a Yala courtroom on Friday has sparked controversy and enquiries into the matter after the presiding judge attempted to commit suicide in front of the court and had to be rescued by policemen at the scene who had him taken to hospital.
5 defendants before the court, three facing the ultimate penalty being accused of murder
The ruling concerned a case involving 5 defendants, three of whom were before the court on murder charges and two accomplices. The judge, named as 49-year old Khanakorn Pianchana, acquitted all of the accused but then went on to explain his decision and more controversially, give an insight into how the judgement came to be delivered to the court.
Case linked to the killing of 5 people last June
The trial followed the killing of five people in the Bannang Sata district of Yala in June last year. The accused were arrested two months later following an intensive investigation led by the deputy police chief in Yala, General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul.
Trial verdict postponed from August 19th
A court ruling on the matter was postponed from August 19th this year. The judge, Mr Khanakorn, was not satisfied according to his comments to the court, with the evidence presented at the trial which he felt was insufficient to convict any of the men involved.
The judge published a detailed statement in a 25-page document on the matter which is circulating online having been initially posted on his Facebook account.
On Friday, before attempting suicide and reading out a sensational statement to the court, the judge issued his ruling acquitting the men of all charges.
Judge told the court he was advised to find the defendants guilty but he would bear responsibility
However, this was not according to Mr Khanakorn the recommended outcome of more senior judges to whom he had, first of all, submitted his judgment for review.
A source within Thailand’s judiciary on Friday told the Bangkok Post that such a procedure is normal in Thailand under the laws governing the conduct of trials.
The source pointed out that a chief judge can order a new panel of judges to review the case if he is ultimately not satisfied with the judge’s proposed verdict.
Senior judges had earlier approved his judgment
However, this case according to the Khanakorn was different. He stated that two senior judges who had earlier approved the main part of judgment with minor alterations had changed their mind. He attributed this to a confidential memo from a more senior official associated with the case.
He claimed that such instructions were marked confidential and that were he to have delivered the recommended guilty verdicts against the defendants, three men would have been sentenced to execution and two others imprisoned based ultimately on his decision.
Acquit even at risk of the defendants being guilty
The judge repeatedly came back to the lack of evidence in the case. He pointed out that it was incumbent on the court to acquit people under these circumstances even if there is a risk that they are guilty.
He pointed out that it is not just the defendants themselves but their families who suffer. At the same time, he made it clear that he could not vouch for the innocence of accused men in the case.
He said that one point, a memo addressed to him had recommended that if he persisted in finding the defendants not guilty that he order their continued detention pending an appeal, a course of action that the judge said made no sense to him at all.
Shot himself in court with a 9mm gun
Once he delivered his verdict and clarified his reasons for doing so on floor 3 of a court building in Yala on Friday, the judge stood up and walked to the portrait of the King, withdrew a 9mm pistol, bowed and then shot himself on the left-hand side of his chest.
He survived as the bullet went straight through. Doctors treating him at Yala Hospital say his condition is not life-threatening.
Senior Court of Justice official defends the impartiality and independence of Thai judges
On Saturday following the startling incident on Friday, which has shocked the public and legal profession in Thailand, the Court of Justice Secretary-General, Sarawut Benjakul stepped in and ordered a review into the matter by the Judicial Commission.
He has also defended the legal process in Thailand, pointing out that judges have the independence to make their own decisions while mechanisms are in place to review decisions made by courts to ensure fairness and transparency.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Friday, a spokesman for the Court of Justice suggested that the suicide attempt by the judge may have been due to personal stress.
Future Forward co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul in contact with the judge since early September
While the 25-page document was initially removed from the Facebook account of the judge, it has transpired that copies were sent elsewhere including to the Secretary-General of the Future Forward Party and Thammasat legal expert, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. Mr Piyabutr currently leads the party in the House of Representatives where it controls the house panel on legal matters.
Judge wanted the information on the case made public
The Future Forward Party co-founder was saying very little on the matter except to suggest that what caused the judge to attempt suicide was not merely a personal issue.
He revealed that the judge had contacted him in early September. He wanted to publicise his concerns and had sent him information.
Criticised long hours and low pay for judges
The judge did also refer to long working hours and poor pay as a judge. He suggested that this made judges susceptible to outside influences.
He also criticised the workload of judges pointing out that judgments had to be written at home after work hours without pay.
He was quoted a saying: ‘Return the ruling to the judges. Return justice to the people.’
Support of local political leader Wan Muhammad Nor Matha of the predominantly Muslim Prachachat Party
It is reported on Saturday that the leader of the Prachachart Party, the Muslim party which is the dominant political force in Yala and Southern Thailand, Wan Muhammad Nor Matha, visited the judge in hospital and praised Mr Khanakorn for the courage he has shown by his action on Friday.