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September 6, 2022

Thailand Considers Expanding Use of Video to Record Witnesses’ Courtroom Testimony

One unique element of Thailand’s current court procedure is in the way records of witnesses’ courtroom testimony are created. Instead of using a court stenographer to create a verbatim record, the typical method used in Thai courts is for the judge to provide a summary of the witnesses’ courtroom statements. After listening to a witness’ answers to the parties’ questions, the trial judge speaks a summary of the witness’ answers—according to the judge’s own understanding—into an audio recorder, and a court clerk then transcribes it so that it can be read for all parties and the witness to confirm the accuracy of the content.

However, Thailand is now exploring ways to update this practice with a system that creates video recordings of witness testimony.

Creating a video record of witness testimony was introduced into the Thai court system for some court cases handled by the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court and the Central Bankruptcy Court. However, recording video of witness testimony was not done in general criminal or civil cases until an October 2021 regulation allowed use of video recording in certain important cases and when a witness’ movement is an important element of the testimony. Since then, video of witness testimony was recorded in some criminal cases when the movement of the witness during the testimony was an important factor for the court to consider in deciding the case, such as an eyewitness testifying about a defendant’s movement in committing a crime.

So far the practice has remained rare, but it has been done enough to demonstrate the viability of the practice. Now that this has proved ready, Thailand is considering widening the use of video recording for witness testimony in all court cases, starting with criminal cases in Bangkok.

Recording witness statements on video is thought to be especially helpful to judges in weighing the credibility of a witness, as it allows the judge to review a witness’ exact words and body language during the testimony. Moreover, it would reduce the amount of time taken up by the process of witness testimony, as the parties would no longer have to wait for the judge to summarize a witness’ answers and the court clerk to transcribe the recording. Instead, witnesses’ testimonies would be recorded on video by multiple cameras inside the courtroom.

However, one downside of this new method is that neither the recording nor a transcript would be provided to the parties, who could only ask to review the recording at the court’s facilities (which would only have a limited amount of viewing equipment available). They could also obtain the court’s notes on the testimony (upon the court’s discretion), but these notes cannot themselves be cited as a witness statement. These limitations will affect the parties’ preparation of pleadings (e.g., closing statements, appeals, etc.) that refer to witness testimony, as the parties will have to cite the timestamp in the witness recording should they want the court to review witness testimony in considering the case. An additional complication and expense is that the parties’ lawyers would need to be accompanied by note-taking assistants so that they could have a record of what each witness said.

This new method of recording witness testimony is expected to be used first in some courtrooms at the Ratchada Criminal Court as a pilot project—if the parties consent to the new practice. Should the video recording of witness testimony be successful, the Supreme Court President would likely issue another regulation allowing widespread implementation of this new method and canceling the current method of recording witness testimony.

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