On April 2, the president of the Supreme Court issued further details and guidance on the handling of cases during the COVID-19 outbreak in Measures for Case Management according to the Declaration of an Emergency Situation between March 26, 2020, and April 30, 2020, in all areas of the Kingdom of Thailand. The Thai judiciary’s initial response to the crisis had come in an announcement on March 24, 2020, that postponed most hearings until the end of May 2020 and enumerated a list of exceptions to this postponement.
The April 2 announcement—which could likely be extended—builds on this and specifies how postponed cases will be handled, addressing the cases by category. The first category is “special management cases,” which includes uncomplicated civil cases that can be completed relatively quickly (such as cases with no answer, or highly specific complaints that can be simply enforced); as well as criminal cases in the preliminary hearing stage and in which the plaintiff is a Thai citizen. The second category is “general cases.” For civil cases, this means more complicated cases, such as where the defendant has responded denying the complaint; for criminal cases, this includes prima facie cases as well as cases in which the prosecutor is the plaintiff. Finally, “special general cases” refers to general cases that have an especially significant amount of evidence requiring extended consideration.
The April 2 announcement recommends that the person responsible for the court services in question use his or her discretion in choosing whether to postpone any hearings scheduled to be held between April 1 and April 30, 2020—including some listed as exceptions in the March 24 announcement—as follows:
Special Management Cases
- Witness examination hearings in criminal cases where the defendant pleads guilty or the defendant is in the custody.
- Evidence inspection hearings in criminal cases.
- Probate hearings.
- Hearings for declaring a person disappeared.
- Hearings to appoint guardians for a juvenile.
- Hearings where a judge believes postponement would result in damages to the parties.
General Cases and Special General Cases
- Hearings in criminal cases where the defendant is in custody.
- Hearings in which a party is ready to present witnesses.
- Hearings where a judge believes postponement would result in damage to the parties.
Scheduling of Postponed and New Hearings
The April 2 announcement specifies that in all cases, such as when a judge postpones a hearing a schedules a new one, no summons for a new hearing will be issued or served before April 30, 2020. Announcements to parties will be made by electronic media or telephone during this period. If the judge postpones a hearing but has not scheduled a new one, or if the process of determining a date for rescheduling is still underway, the court officer is directed to coordinate with the parties via electronic media or telephone, taking into account the number of cases scheduled for each day in order to avoid any crowd.
For new complaints or hearings that have not yet been scheduled, the court will handle the matters differently based on which of the above categories the cases fall into. For Special Management Cases, newly filed complaints should be scheduled for August–September 2020, depending on the number of cases. For General Cases and Special General Cases, new hearings will be rescheduled for dates after the postponed hearings.
Specific Procedural Contingencies
The April 2 announcement of the Supreme Court president also details how to handle some specific circumstances that may arise, mostly in regard to pending criminal cases.
If the defendant is in custody, whether in prison or elsewhere, communication with the defendant in criminal cases (e.g., asking whether he or she has a lawyer, reading and explaining the complaint, requesting an answer) and witness examination are to be performed at court in accordance with the Judicial Regulation on the Procedure of Criminal Cases.
Judgment hearings held between April 1 and April 30, 2020, are to be handled as follows:
- For civil cases: As scheduled. If a party does not appear before the court, the court may read the judgment if it chooses (Civil Procedure Code, section 140(3), paragraph 2).
- For criminal cases: If all defendants have been granted temporary release, the judgment hearing will be postponed and defendants kept informed of any developments. If a party asks the judge to read a judgment as it was scheduled, the judge can proceed by issuing any measure necessary for the safety of all relevant persons.
If some defendants or all defendants are imprisoned, the judge will read the judgment as it was scheduled to the defendant in accordance with the Judicial Regulation on the Procedure of Criminal Cases.
For cases where the deadline to submit an appeal or final appeal falls between April 1 and April 30, 2020, judges are directed to review any petition for extension in a way that is beneficial to the party. This is especially applicable in criminal cases, where the defendant must appear before the court officer at the time of submitting the appeal or final appeal. In this situation, the judge is directed to grant the deadline extension request.
To reduce the density of the prison population, thus lowering the chances of COVID-19 spreading inside prisons, judges are directed to consider granting temporary release in criminal cases, with additional conditions. For instance, the judge may mandate the defendant’s whereabouts, order the use of monitoring equipment, or appoint a custodian to chaperone the defendant. Judges are also directed to allow the accused parties or defendants to present themselves via telephone or electronic media instead of by physical appearance at the court. Individuals to receive such consideration include any accused or defendant who has never been in custody, defendants granted temporary release in a criminal case, and defendants who have been sentenced to prison for five years or less in cases where the defendant did not submit an appeal or a final appeal.