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Opinion: Need for more speed in court proceedings

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Sakun Suanpharn, 53, originally from Uttaradit, took up the position of Chief Judge of Phuket Provincial Court on April 1 last year. Judge Sakun earned a Bachelor’s of Law, Barrister-at-law from Ramkhamhaeng University. Before coming to Phuket, Judge Sakun served as Chief Judge of Yala Juvenile Court, following more than 20 years’ experience after graduating from university.

Here, he explains why it is important to stay on top of cases and close them in a timely manner, despite having only a small number of judges taking on thousands of cases.

PHUKET: It is very hard work to be a judge in Phuket. Our court is overloaded, with the number of cases to be heard having risen to more than 13,000 over the past year. We have only 21 judges to take care of all of these cases.

Our court is already booked up with hearings through February of next year.

About 80 per cent of all Phuket court cases involve drug offenders, followed by incidents of theft and other types of criminal cases.

Civil cases in Phuket, however, are quite different from those in other provinces, as we have many cases involving land disputes. Land in Phuket is much more valuable and expensive than land in other provinces, and becoming a landowner in Phuket is complicated. This is why land dispute cases take a very long time to work out in court.

Litigants in these cases are willing to take their cases to the Civil Court, the Appeals Court and even the Supreme Court – it ends up being a long and drawn-out process.

When I first took up this position a year ago, there were nearly 500 cases that had been in the court process for a while already. This backlog is a result of defendants and plaintiffs not presenting their witnesses to the court, and the ever-increasing number of new cases that need to be heard piling up on top of the old ones.

I came into this job well aware that it was going to be difficult, as there were so many old cases to be closed and new ones to be taken on.

The first thing I told all of the judges and court staffers when I first started was that I was here to work. They can either love me or hate me – I will accept it. Being loved is better, but love is only an emotion, and it would be forgotten after my time here had passed.

I made it my goal to not hold on to cases for unnecessary lengths of time. It is essential to close cases as quickly as possible so that we can handle the new ones. I have pushed my judges hard over the past year to do just that.

My policy was to push for defendants and plaintiffs to be responsible for bringing their own witnesses to testify in court. We do not have enough staffers available to do this for them, and I did not allow either party in a case to leave that task to our staff.

My rule was that if any party failed to bring a witness to court, the witness testimony would be dismissed. Either they ensure the witnesses come to court to be heard, or they lose the chance to use the witness. This makes the court process much faster. Judges are allowed to dismiss witness testimony, but if they must extend a case, they have to inform me and I will make the final decision.

I told my judges that we are like boxing referees. The match is set for five rounds. After five rounds, it is over. We are the ones who set the rules for the litigants; they do not control us and tell us what to do. Each case must be closed as efficiently and swiftly as possible.

As a result of this policy, we have cleared out a huge amount of ongoing cases. Only 10 per cent of them are left. This is an impressive feat, as we have managed to do this on top of handling incoming cases.

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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