Monday, August 10, 2015

Right to counsel denied in Thai military court

An op-ed by Burin Kantabutra in The Nation observes:
Under martial law, suspects are tried in military courts but are denied the basic right of access to counsel. For example, on the TV news it was reported on August 7 that Pongsak Sriboonpeng wasn't allowed a lawyer or observers at his trial because, the court said, his lèse majesté case was sensitive, affecting national security and peace and order. 
Without such access, defendants are sitting ducks for prosecutors and could say something without fully comprehending the implications. Also, without the check-and-balance of defence counsel, verdicts might not seem just to the general public, undermining opinion that the punishment fits the crime. 
In another lèse majesté case this month, Samak Pantay - who had been certified as mentally ill - was sentenced to 10 years, reduced to five because he confessed. How can a mentally ill man's confession be credible? He should have been sent to a mental institution and released when he was normal. How could the court calculate that five (or 10) years was suitable? I'm no lawyer, but I believe defence counsel might have pointed this out to the court. 
US military courts also handle sensitive cases affecting national security and peace and order, yet the defendants have the right to be represented by counsel of their choice.
Defendants in our military courts should have access to the counsel of their choice, failing which they should be able to use public defenders. This would help the public see that courts were dispensing justice, and thus significantly help reconciliation.

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