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Thailand: New Law Impacts Former Prime Minister’s Appeal Against Conviction

(Oct. 24, 2017) After a trial lasting more than two years, a Bangkok court found the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, guilty of dereliction of duty and handed down a five-year prison term on September 27, 2017. The Court found that the Yingluck administration’s rice pledging deals were not managed properly and caused financial damage to the government.  (Liam Cochrane, Thai Ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra Found Guilty over Rice Subsidy Policy, ABC NEWS (Australia) (Sept. 27, 2017).) Under the rice pledging deals, farmers had mortgaged their rice to the state in exchange for loans during the main harvest, later buying back the crop when the price increased.  (Sayuri Umeda, Thailand: Crisis in Thai Rice Pledging Scheme, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 7, 2013).)

Yingluck left Thailand before the judgment was issued and currently is in London, according to news articles. (Yingluck ‘Has Left Dubai for London,’ NATION (Oct. 3, 2017).)

In the meantime, on September 22, 2017, the Thai National Assembly enacted a new law on trial procedures of the Supreme Court’s criminal division for holders of political positions.  (Constitution Act on the Criminal Cases of Political Position Holders, 134 ROYAL THAI GOVERNMENT GAZETTE, No. 99, at 1 (Sept. 28, 2017) (in Thai).)  It was published in the Royal Gazette on September 28, 2017, and took effect on the following day.  (Fresh Law Sinks Yingluck Appeal Hope, Ends Career, BANGKOK POST (Sept. 29, 2017).)

According to a news article, under section 61 of the new law, a defendant who wishes to appeal a court decision must do so in person.  (Id.)  Under this new law, however, Yingluck must also avoid being arrested in Thailand for the rest of her life if she does not want to be imprisoned, because the statute of limitations on her case will never end.  It has also been reported that section 25 of the new law freezes the statute of limitations, stopping it from running, once the case is filed with the court.  While the law does not have retroactive effect, it does apply to new actions or proceedings on pending cases.  (New Law Makes Appeal More Difficult for Yingluck, BANGKOK POST (Sept. 28, 2017).)

If Yingluck returns to Thailand and serves her five-year prison term, she will be prohibited from being a member of parliament or a minister of the national government for life under the country’s new 2017 Constitution because she had been sentenced to imprisonment under the Organic Act on Counter Corruption.  (Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Apr. 6, 2560 (2017)), §§ 98 & 160, Office of the Council of State website (unofficial translation); New Law Makes Appeal More Difficult for Yingluck, supra; Organic Act on Counter Corruption, B.E. 2542 (1999), Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission; Text of the Organic Act on Counter Corruption in Thai (July 9, 2015), Royal Thai Government Gazette website.)