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Thailand: Two lawyers subjected to legal harassment for their defense of human rights researcher

12 November 2019 - The ICJ condemned the use of civil proceedings to harass Nakorn Chompuchart and Sira Osottham, lawyers representing labour rights researcher Andy Hall.

The ICJ called on Thailand to take measures to protect lawyers so that they can perform their duties without intimidation, harassment or improper interference.

On 12 November 2019, the Bangkok Civil Court conducted its first hearing in a tort case under the Civil and Commercial Code by a Thai fruit processing company, Natural Fruit Company Ltd. (‘the Company’), against the lawyers. The two lawyers represent Andy Hall in several criminal and civil proceedings brought against him seeking damages claimed to have resulted from his research into labour rights abuses allegedly committed by the Company.  In the lawsuit against the lawyers, the Company is seeking 50 million Thai baht (approximately 1.65 million USD) as compensation for lost business.

“This legal action is part of a pattern of harassment by Natural Fruit against Andy Hall,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director. “It is a bedrock principle of the rule of law that lawyers should not be identified with their clients or their clients causes as a result of discharging their function.”

In the complaint, Natural Fruit claims that Andy Hall and his lawyers “excessively exercise their rights”, “intentionally damage the Company’s reputation”, and “caused financial loss in their business” when they brought a case in 2017 against the Company, the Company’s lawyers, and public prosecutor for allegedly “giving false testimony” and “filing false complaint” in other criminal proceedings.  The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court who was of the view that the Company exercised their right in good faith.

“This is not the first time in Thailand that lawyers have faced the unwarranted threat of criminal or civil prosecution when representing their clients,” said Rawski. “As with the criminal proceedings brought against Sirikan “June” Charoensiri for her professional activities as a lawyer, such vexatious actions set a precedent that endangers the ability of lawyers to effectively represent their clients. The government must take prompt and effective measures to ensure that the safety and independence of lawyers is guaranteed in law and in practice.”

 

Background

This case was also initially brought against Andy Hall, but was later withdrawn because the Court could not send court writs to Andy as he does not reside in Thailand.

Criminal and civil proceedings have brought against Andy Hall were in relation to the report of a Finnish NGO, Finnwatch, published in January 2013, called Cheap Has a High Price, which alleged that labour rights violations were taking place at Natural Fruit Company.

Thailand is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 14 of the ICCPR guarantees the right of the clients of the concerned lawyers to an effective defence.

UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers also provides that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.” Moreover, lawyers should not be identified with their clients or their clients causes as a result of discharging their function.