Hong Kong: Thailand - Legal System - History

Last Updated: 20 November 1995
Most Read Contributor in Hong Kong, September 2016
The Thai legal system, as legal systems, cannot be properly understood witho ut the background knowledge of its own history and thus a digression into its hi story is imperative. The historian would insist on making a starting point from the time of Sukhothai, Ayuddhaya up to Rattanakosin as the proper sequence of ev ents. But as the present existing positive law is almost entirely Roman-based an d divorced from our own prior social evolution, the starting point to be fixed h ere, is at the time of the rein of King Rama V in the Rattanakosin period (durin g the turn of the 19th to 20th century). In the course of the given times, the p eriod of colonialism, the English and the French took over all the neighbouring countries, closing in on all sides. The current Thai law was looked upon as prim itive and a request for extra-territoriality was made. In fear of losing nationa l independence, Thailand succumbed to their request, a result of which partial j udicial cases in which the British subjects or the French subjects were parties.
Running counter to the allegation of having primitive law, King Rama V and his administration proceeded to resolve the state of affairs by introducing the elements of English common law and those of the Roman-based French law into the Thai system, in the hope that this would obliterate the need of the foreign courts intervention. Admittedly, it was also high time that a revamped or overhauled version of the Thai legal system be made. Foreign legal experts were invited and commissioned to compile the first four main codes: the Civil and Commercial Code, the Civil Procedure Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Constitution of the Court of Justice. Meanwhile, several Thai scholars were sent abroad for further education and came back in time to assist the compilation. After several years of Labour Book I, Book II and Book III of the Civil and Commercial Code were promulgated in 1926. The remaining areas in the three other books were finished later and promulgated in successive order. The other codes mentioned above were brought into force during contemporaneous times. Hence not long after that was the mission of regaining the partially lost sovereignty fully accomplished. The last code, the Criminal Code, which was the follow-up of the revamp only, came into force in 1957. By force of the historical account, as stated above, the main body of Thai law assumes the characteristics of the Roman-based codified system, coupled with the blend of the ingredients from English Common Law. It is said that the English Common Law has spread out across the world through the domination of the British Empire, while the Civil Law or the codified system has taken root in several unrelated countries because of its compatibility conceptional clarity and comprehensiveness. The ramifications of Civil Law was condensed into various codes and was readily transferable into many other systems. If Justinian were alive, he would been greatly surprised to learn that Thailand, a country with no connection to the Roman Empire, should substantially adopt the elements of Roman law.

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