Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Newly Published Statistics on Death Penalty Sentencing in Thailand

Recently, new statistics on sentences passed by thai courts have been released "Annual Judicial Statistics of Thailand", " <http://www.oppb.coj.go.th/userfiles/file/AnnualStatistics56.pdf> ".This document gives the numbers of sentences in all catagories for the years 2012 and 2013. Of particular interest are death penalties, which number 189 and 294 for the years 2012 aand 2013. These figures are a huge increase on earlier unofficial estimates.

UCL website: While we have long sought for an official statement on the number of death sentences, the figures were not available. We worked under the assumption that those condemned to death  would be refused bail and imprisoned. We were very familiar with the arguments for refusal of bail in cases of capital punishment. The incentive to flee the country would be very high and there was often repeated warnings that a person condemned to death would be very likely to intimidate witnesses in the hope that they would retract evidence. We met and interacted with prisoners condemned to death who were imprisoned; we had no means of knowing or meeting with a condemned person who might have been released on bail. On what appeared to be the rare occasion when a condemned person was granted bail, as in a case where the condemned person was a policeman, public outrage appeared to confirm the rarity of such release. The certain figures available to us were the numbers of prisoners in jails who had been condemned to death. For example, in the most recent figures available, 31 May 2015, there are 437 prisoners. A break down of these figures is available, into male and female, drug and non-drug cases, and the stage of trial, Appeal and Supreme Court. The missing statistic is the number of prioners per year. From the time of first sentence to a final Supreme Court judgement can take six to ten years and we have never known at what stage prisoners were involved. Certainly the number who have completed all stages are small; in the 2015 figures 29 out of 437 or 7%.

We had succeeded in getting some idea of the number of sentences each year from estimates provided unofficially by government officials. These numbers, obtained by examining court documents for prisoners, were in the range 50 to 53 per year, which seemed consistent with the overall number of prisoners.

The recently revealed figures for death sentences per year for 2012 and 2013, especially the 2013 figure of 294 appeared impossible. The office issueing the statistics helpfully provided a phone number for enquiries which we used to contact the official who had worked on the table of statistics. He pointed out that an apparent conflict with prison statistics was due to the majority of condemned prisoners being granted bail, and thus not appearing in prison statistics.

And here for the moment the matter rests. However, the major revelation is the virulence of the death penalty in the Thai judicial system. Rather than about one sentence per week, we are apporaching one sentence per day. Of course, executions are not being carried out, but a death sentence is a condemnation to the awful system of imprionment in appalling prison conditions for an indeterminate period, and always with the risk that active executions may be introduced at any time.

However statistical problems remain. The interpretation offered of prisoners being on bail, should mean that there would occur a surge in the number of prisoners who have completed the judicial process as the prisoners found guilty by the supreme court enter the stream of those imprisoned throughout the legal process. It may be that improved statistics revealing reversals of judgment, and of the status of prisoners on bail may help to explain the dichotomy in prison and court statistics. But at present we are still faced with an incompatibility in numbers which defies comprehension

No comments: