Thai military courts empowered for 'abnormal situation'

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) made a surprise move on Sunday, issuing order No 37 that empowered military courts to try cases against civilians suspected of committing lese majeste and internal security offences. Military courts ordinarily only have the power to try cases involving soldiers, but under martial law, the NCPO has invoked Article 36 of the Military Courts Charter Act (1995) to empower military courts to try cases against civilians.

Offences under order No 37 are violations of Articles 107-112 of the Criminal Code - lese majeste, offences against their Majesties and offences against members of the Royal Family and their regents.

The order also covers internal security violations under Articles 113-118 of the Criminal Code - violations of NCPO orders, insurrection, accumulating renegade forces and arms, conspiring to commit sedition and persuading military and police officials to escape service.

It also includes instigating riots and disturbing the peace, instigating work stoppages and insulting the state through disrespecting national flags and other national emblems.

Order No 37 stipulates that offences committed in the country while the order is in force will be tried in military courts.

Ordinarily, Article 13 of the Military Courts Charter Act 1955 stipulates that military courts can only try cases involving offences under military laws or criminal laws and when offenders are under the jurisdiction of military while committing the offence.

Military courts also have the power to punish offenders on charges of contempt of court as stipulated in civil code procedures.

In simple terms, military courts ordinarily have the power over military personnel, except in cases involving a soldier and a civilian, cases that must be tried in juvenile courts or cases that involve the authority of civilian courts.

Article 36 of the Military Courts Charter Act stipulates that during an "abnormal situation" or during war or during a period in which martial law is declared, military courts have the power to try any criminal cases on the orders of the Supreme Commander or the person who declared martial law.

After the war is over or martial law is lifted, military courts have the power to try the cases that have yet to be completed or that have yet to be filed.