Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) must end its interference in the elections of the president and committee members of the Lawyers Council of Thailand (LCT), the ICJ and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said today.
The LCT in turn must ensure the elections are conducted in a fair and impartial manner.
“International standards explicitly prohibit external interference in the elections of the executive body of a lawyers’ professional association by its members, and the association’s leadership must ensure that such elections are conducted in a fair and impartial manner” said Matt Pollard, the Head of the ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. “Ensuring the independence and democratic representation of the legal profession is essential to safeguarding human rights and the rule of law, especially in the current circumstances of military rule in Thailand.”
On 29 February 2016, Mr Wichien Choobtaisong, a representative of the electoral group of the current LCT President, Mr. Dej-udom Krairit, wrote to the NCPO “seeking permission” to hold meetings and campaigns for the LCT’s regularly-scheduled elections, referring to the NCPO’s ban on political gatherings of more than five persons.
On 16 March 2016, the NCPO replied, stating that the elections “contradict” the ban on political gatherings, which “must apply equally to all groups and sectors in the interest of maintaining national security during the transition period,” and taking the position that that the elections must accordingly be postponed with the current committee continuing its term until elections are held. The NCPO’s reply also notes it received a letter from the LCT on 14 December 2015, which the ICJ and TLHR have not seen.
In its letter, the NCPO referred to NCPO Announcement 7/2014, which bans the political gathering of more than five persons (Announcement 7/2014 was later replaced by Order 3/2015). The ICJ reiterates that these arbitrary and unjustified orders and announcements should be repealed, and calls on the NCPO, in any event, to immediately withdraw its letter of 16 March, replacing it with written confirmation that the LCT elections will be able to proceed as scheduled, without external interference.
The LCT must then put in place procedures to ensure the elections proceed as scheduled and in a fair and impartial manner.
“Since the military took power, we have seen a marked increase in the number of individuals requiring legal aid for sensitive and political cases,” said Yaowalak Anuphan, the Head of TLHR and member of the LCT. “In this environment, it is even more essential that the Lawyers Council of Thailand is able to exercise its functions without external interference and that everyone has effective and equal access to the legal services of lawyers.”
The Lawyers Council of Thailand was established in 1957. Its mandate and responsibilities are set out in the Lawyers Council Act 1985.
The objectives of the Council include maintaining the ethics of lawyers, promoting legal education and providing legal assistance.
It also registers lawyers and issues them with licenses to practice law in Thailand. Members of the Council elect the president and committee members every three years.
Article 24 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the UN in 1990, sets out that: “Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity.
The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external interference.”
Among other things, the UN Basic Principles also affirm that ensuring all persons have effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession is essential for adequate protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
They note the vital role of professional associations of lawyers including in protecting their members from persecution and improper restrictions and infringements. The Basic Principles specify that governments should respect and reflect the provisions of the Basic Principles in their national legislation and practice.
The UN Human Rights Committee has applied the Basic Principles as a necessary component of the right to a fair trial guaranteed in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State Party.
The UN Committee will review Thailand’s compliance with the ICCPR at an upcoming meeting.