Judgement Day in a Thai Court

I was telling you before about the day I spent in a criminal court in Thailand. (Click the links to read part one and part two.) It was a long day and the bench I was sitting on was extremely uncomfortable. But, at least I knew for sure that I could go home at the end of the day unlike my former student who was now standing trial. The actual trial was the week before and nine days later we had returned to hear the verdict. How would you feel on a day like this? I don’t know about you but I would be terrified about not knowing what my future would hold. I like to be in control, but on this day, two judges would decide the fate of defendant number two. How do you prepare yourself for this? Do you say goodbye to your loved ones? Do you do your last minute washing and put away your underwear neatly in the drawer? Well, if you are Thai you don’t. One thing I noticed is that they don’t like to talk about anything bad that might happen. If you talk about it then you are inviting trouble. Best to ignore it and hope for the best. The only thing he could do was light incense sticks and pray at the spirit house in front of his home.

At 8.30 a.m. we were back at the Criminal Court in Samut Prakan. Everyone was visibly nervous and tense. I think we all just wanted to get this day over with. We waited outside as it was so hot and would be hotter in the corridor on the 4th floor. The courtroom itself was air-conditioned but it would still be locked at this time. So we sat and waited. A short while later, the sound of sirens indicated that the prison bus had arrived. We all looked at each other. Even though we were all hoping for a suspended sentence or at least community service, we all knew that defendant number two could very well be shackled, and sent away on this prison bus in just a few short hours. You know, the sound of chains never go away and I can still hear them now as I type this.It is such a haunting sound.

It was now approaching 9 a.m. and it was time to make our way up stairs. A light was on outside the courtroom indicating the court clerk had already arrived. We went in and sat down on the hard benches. The public gallery was crowded and I tried to work out how many cases were going to be tried this morning. There were two lawyers on the defendants table and two on the prosecutors side. I didn’t recognize any of them and it was beginning to look like no-one else would be coming to hear the verdict. About ten minutes later the back door opened and one of the judges made an appearance. The court clerk motioned to everyone to stand up. As before, the lawyers quickly put on their robes. It was funny, it was always last minute for them to put on the robes.

I could see the judge ask the court clerk about the whereabouts of the other judge but I didn’t catch the reply. He then decided to continue without him. This was the guy that was cutting his finger nails with one of those big scissors with the bright orange handles. I guessed he was going to let his friend read the verdict. The first case was again a kind of land dispute due to a death in the family. It didn’t last long. By this time the second judge had arrived and sat down in his comfy chair. But, it looked like he had forgotten something and he soon got up and left. Next to arrive was a prisoner with chains. He was escorted by a policeman who held in his hands a pair of handcuffs. It did cross my mind that it was strange that he was carrying the handcuffs as the prisoner was already chained. He then put them down on a seat near me. I should have seen that as a sign.

The prisoner was asked to stand up in order to listen to the verdict. I didn’t listen as I was more interested in observing the second judge who had just returned with a pile of papers. Probably the documents for our case. He looked my way a few times and I tried to see any indication of what he was going to say. But no clues. I was just starting to wonder how much longer we would be kept in suspense when the prisoner sat down and the two defendants in our case were told to stand up. It was 9.34 a.m. The charges were then read out aloud and the judge then gave the verdict. First for the friend of my former student. You might remember the drama in court the week before when I said that this guy had lied through his teeth in order to incriminate defendant number two. I had hoped that the judge had seen this and would not let this guy go home alone today. At the very least they should get the same sentence.

“Defendant number one, you are sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of 400,000 baht” (just over $10,000 which is a lot of money). By this time my mind was in a kind of trance. Everything around me was blocked out. Even what the judge was saying. I was only waiting to hear two things: the number of years and the fine. “Defendant number two” That is my former student. “You are sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 200,000 baht.” Everything after that was a blur. The policeman picked up the handcuffs near me and put them on the defendants, now prisoners, straight away. His family then ushered me out of the court into the corridor. The lawyer was waiting outside and immediately they started discussing what they could do next.

To be honest, I was shocked but also partly relieved. It could have been a lot worse. When I went home that night I posted on the regulars forum the news. But, I was so emotional that I couldn’t write anything longer than three sentences. It was a kind of delayed shock. Even now, exactly seven days after the event, it still affects me to remember the details of that day. From the courtroom we went downstairs to the ground floor. A plan had already been formulated. First, they wanted the evidence and paperwork to be separated. As defendant number one had pleaded not guilty, he would be taking a different course now. Next, they needed to prepare the way to go in front of the Court of Appeal. (In Thailand, there are three courts.) As this might take some time, their first priority was to try and get him out on bail. No-one wanted to see him go to a Thai prison today. I have read too many books to know that prisons in Thailand are not the healthiest of places.

As this is getting too long, I will write the conclusion of this first part soon.

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