Tuesday, 25 January 2011

MP Panich's parliamentary status needs to be cleared up

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth

via CAAI

Published: 25/01/2011

Election commissioner Sodsri Satayatham has a valid point in raising the question of whether Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth is still eligible to hold a seat in parliament after being convicted and sentenced to jail in Cambodia.

Mr Panich appears to be the first serving Thai lawmaker to have been sentenced to imprisonment by a foreign court – the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in this case.

Whether the verdict will have an effect on his parliamentary status, although not yet a formal issue, is certainly worthy of consideration, as pointed out by Mrs Sodsri.

The election commissioner wants members of the parliament to ask House Speaker Chai Chidchob to raise Mr Panich’s parliamentary status with the Constitution Court, so seek a clearcut ruling.

The Democrat MP, who won his Bangkok seat in a July by-election, was convicted and jailed in Cambodia for illegal entry and trespassing on a Cambodian military area.

She would like to know if Mr Panich is still eligible for parliament, and whether the Cambodian court’s verdict is applicable here.

Article 106 of the constitution states, in essence, that a member of the parliament loses his/her status if sentenced to imprisonment and the verdict is final, even if the jail term was suspended. However, this would not apply if the sentence is for a petty offence or for commiting an offence by negligence, or in the case of a conviction for defamation.

Mrs Sodsri has a valid point . Mr Panich’s parliamentary status needs to be clarified by the Constitution Court, to set a precedent and also to pre-empt possible legal complications if the Democrat MP was later found to be ineligible as a result of the Cambodian court’s verdict.

Election commissioner Sodsri Satayatham

Personally, I believe that Article 106 of the charter was meant to apply only to a verdict by a Thai court and not the verdict of a foreign court - because that would amount to recognition of the jurisdiction of a foreign court in Thailand.

Since a law for a particular offence in one country may be different from the law for the same offence in another country, and the legal proceedings may differ from one country to another, it does not make good sense for one country to accept or to recognise a verdict delivered by the court of another country.

Take for instance the case of a public protest, which is legal in this country and illegal in Burma. If a Thai MP was jailed for holding a protest in Burma, should we recognise the Burmese court’s verdict here and let the verdict affect his parliamentary status?

But to clear up any doubts, Mr Panich’s case needs a ruling by the Constitution Court and a legal precedent to be set for the future.

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