As internet availability and speeds have taken off in Thailand, more and more consumers in the country have adjusted their behavior by purchasing products through websites and online applications. However, they sometimes find that not all transactions turn out as expected. As online sales have increased, the number of disputes over these transactions has also continued to grow. Local news outlets are now reporting on the latest official response to this trend: a new division of the Civil Court designed to cope with the growing number of disputes from online transactions.
The Honorable Chief Justice Piyakul Boonperm, president of Thailand’s Supreme Court, is aiming to expand internet shoppers’ access to justice by setting up a special division to work on cases involving online transactions. The announcement of the formation of this division was published in the Government Gazette on December 20, 2021, and the Civil Court announced shortly after that it would start operating on January 27, 2022. The announcement does not affect cases filed prior to January 27, 2022, and does not revoke plaintiffs’ rights to file cases through alternative legal means.
The special division handles only disputes between buyers and sellers in an online transaction over a legal right or obligation related to consumption of goods or services in accordance with section 3(1) of the Consumer Procedural Act B.E. 2551 (2008) on what the law called “consumer cases.” This also includes bodies that can act on a consumer’s behalf by law, such as a consumer protection commission, association, or foundation approved by the Consumer Protection Commission.
Only cases that can be handled remotely through the court’s electronic system fall within the scope of this announcement—cases that cannot be completely handled online will not be taken up by the new special division. Accordingly, parties must utilize the court’s e-filing system, and all steps in the proceedings must be online, including filing the complaint, conducting hearings, participating in the mediation process, taking witness testimony and other evidence, conducting trials, and granting judgments.
The special division relies on previously available legal tools. Parties have access to the e-filing system 24 hours a day and can file documents with the court without having to be physically present at the court. Conducting proceedings through the e-filing system, which has been available since May 2017, usually speeds up the process of sending documents to the court and counterparties. Also, other procedural laws in relation to consumer laws were not changed. Thus, there is no significant impact in terms of the laws used in litigating the cases. All parties are still bound by the same set of rules as before, such as laws on evidence and other related procedural laws.
The new special division could potentially cause an increase in the number of cases litigated in the Thai courts. Nonetheless, having a new division of judges and court personnel at the Civil Court dedicated specifically to these online dispute cases should have a significant impact as well, meaning that ultimately, these types of cases are likely to be handled more swiftly than traditional ones.