Contempt of Court over critics of decision on MP’s media shareholding

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights: Fri, 27 September 2019

Contempt of Court over critics of decision on MP’s media shareholding

Case Between the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court  and Sarinee Achavanuntakul, Thai academic.

Case Briefing

The Supreme Court issued a summons dated 21 August 2019, to Ms. Sarinee Achavanuntakul and Mr. Yuttana Nuanjarut, news editor of Krungthep Turakit newspaper, to appear before the Court for the contempt of court proceedings on 9 September 2019.

The summons indicates that Sarinee has been accused by the Secretary of the Election Cases Division of contempt of court for the publication of an article titled “Perils of Excessive Rule of Law (revisited), Case of Media Shareholding by MP candidates” ("อันตรายภาวะนิติศาสตร์ล้นเกิน (อีกที) กรณีหุ้นสื่อของ ผู้สมัครส.ส.") on Krungthep Turakit newspaper on 14th May 2019.

The alleged article, written by Sarinee, relates to the ruling on 19 March 2019 in which the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division banned a Future Forward Party (FFP)’s MP candidate from Sakon Nakhon province for being an owner or a shareholder of a newspaper or mass media business, which was the grounds for disqualification as an MP candidate according to Thailand’s Constitution of 2017 (B.E. 2560). Although the published article discussed the court’s judgement which was already final, not being during a trial of a case up to final judgement, the Court accused that ‘the article that the author wrote, therefore, has influence over public sentiment, or over the court, or over litigants, or over witnesses during other future court trials related to the right to stand for election to the House of Representatives, which may involve the same issue that the author mentioned or expressed in the article’.

Under the Thai Civil Procedure Code related to contempt of court, the Court shall have power to punish a person who commits the offence by imposing the penalty of not exceeding six months or fine exceeding five hundred baht, or both.

Accusation

A copy of a memorandum attached to the summons states that the civil case (contempt of court) was filed by Supradit Jeensawake, Secretary of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division. Supradit said that the article criticized the Supreme Court, saying that the Court was careless in its interpretation of the law preventing individuals with shares in media companies from running as MP candidates and that this interpretation is dangerous. Supradit also said that the article accused the Election Cases Division of the Supreme Court of using the law incessantly and interpreting it without considering the facts and the spirit of the law. Supradit interpreted that Sarinee did not criticize the Court’s ruling in good faith but intended to attack or rebuke the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division that it interpreted the law carelessly and incessantly.

Furthermore, the Secretary of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division, accuses that ‘the content which the author mentioned or illustrated in the said newspaper is inaccurate: accusing the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division of interpreting the law “carelessly” and using the law “unremittingly”, and over-interpreting the texts without considering the intention of the law. The author’s accusation is a biased and inaccurate description of legal procedure and is an unfair criticism that disparages the Supreme Court. Since the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division has the authority to consider and reach a verdict on the right to stand for an election of members of the House of Representatives (cases related to MP candidates’ qualification) according to Thailand’s Constitution and the 2018 (B.E. 2561) organic law on the election of members of the House of Representatives’.

The accuser interprets that ‘the author wrote the article therefore has influence over public sentiment, or over the court, or over litigants, or over witnesses during other future court trials related to the right to stand for election to the House of Representatives, which may involve the same issue that the author mentioned or expressed in the article’. He furthers that ‘the article is not an academic analysis of a final verdict of the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division since the use of the words, “mukngai” and “ta-phud-ta-phu” are not academic, but has the sole purpose of disparagement. How can the author know that the Supreme Court’s Election Cases Division interpreted the law “carelessly” and has used the law “unremittingly”? This constitutes contempt of court pursuant to Section 32(2) of the Civil Procedure Code.’

Offence of Contempt of Court

Section 32 of Thai Civil Procedure Code states that whoever is the author, editor or publisher of any newspaper or printed matter published to the public shall, irrespective of whether he knew of the contents or publication of such newspaper or such printed matter, be said to have committed a contempt of Court in either of the two following cases:

(1) […]

(2) When such newspaper or printed matter, during a trial of a case up to final judgement, contains or expresses in any way whatsoever any information or opinion intended to influence the public sentiment or the Court or any party or witness in the case, which appears likely to prejudice the fair of such case, such as:

a. A misrepresentation of the facts of the case, or

b. A biased and inaccurate report, summary or comment of the proceedings of the case, or

c. An unfair comment on the conduct of the case by a party or on the evidence or character of a party or witness, including a statement of facts prejudicial to the reputation of such party or witness even though the same be true, or

d. An inducement to committing perjury.

For the purpose of this Section, the definitions in Section 4 of the Press Act., B.E. 2476 shall apply.

Schedule of the hearing:

Sarinee is summoned to appear before the Court on September 9, 2019 at 10.30 am at Court Room No.2, Room 208, The Supreme Court (located on Ratchadamnoen Nai Road). Due to the special proceedings of contempt of court law, the Supreme Court already ordered a panel of judges to conduct and inquiry and rule on the matter of contempt of court on the case. The Court will start its own inquiry to lay out the accusation against the accused, to inquire on the facts or witnesses as it sees fit. The Court shall make a decision on the contempt of court on the same day, if deemed satisfied. Sarinee and the news editor may face an imprisonment not exceeding to six months or/and a fine not exceeding to five hundred baht.

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