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Digital Justice: Solution to Inequalities in the New Normal


The 18th National Symposium on Justice Administration, held on May 13-14, 2021, addressed the topic of “Enhancing Justice for People in the New Normal Era” with the aim of achieving inclusiveness and preparing a blueprint for justice administration in the new era

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only threatened public health, but also widened inequalities in Thai society. Reports on Thailand’s social outlook from 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020 show the number of unemployed people in the country rose from 370,000 to 740,000. Many families have lost income and are facing growing pressures, which in many cases have manifested in domestic violence or violence against women. Hence, judicial processes need to adapt quickly to keep pace with problems arising from changing lifestyles, especially now that both adults and children spend more time online.

The 18th National Symposium on Justice Administration, held on May 13-14, 2021, addressed the topic of “Enhancing Justice for People in the New Normal Era” with the aim of achieving inclusiveness and preparing a blueprint for justice administration in the new era. Hosted by the Office of Justice Affairs, the symposium invited members of the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) and the TIJ Executive Program on the Rule of Law and Development (RoLD) to share legal and judicial knowledge applicable to different sectors of society.

Digital Justice: Judicial Process That Respects Diversity, Pursues Inclusivity in COVID-19 Age

Dr. Kiratipong Naewmalee, a senior researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) who studied mechanisms of the Justice Fund, said people with insufficient financial resources are the most likely to have difficulty accessing Thailand’s judicial process. Relevant authorities, after all, could not provide complete assistance in the face of legal constraints. For example, the Justice Fund can only help once the case has gone to court and only if applicants meet certain criteria. The criteria for eligibility are also not very clear. Dr. Kiratipong believes such problems lead to unequal access to Thailand’s judicial system despite the fact that every legal state must guarantee its people’s rights and liberties. The accused should always be presumed innocent and have equal access to the judicial process.

The Justice Ministry set up the Office of Justice Affairs in 2006 to promote equality and deliver assistance to the poor. Its key missions are:

• Providing financial assistance to people requiring access to the legal process;

• Requesting temporary release of accused persons/defendants;

• Helping victims of human-rights violations who have been detained longer than required by law or scapegoats whose cases have been dismissed in court; and

• Providing legal knowledge to the public.

However, Dr. Kiratipong pointed out that “the Office of Justice Affairs has not been able to address requests filed by several people” due to legal constraints and criteria that need more legal interpretation. He recommended that the Justice Fund explore solutions to the following problems:

Digital Justice: Solution to Inequalities in the New Normal (1) Assistance with legal procedure is still restricted to people whose cases have already entered the legal system, thus making it impossible for poor people to seek any legal help before that stage;

(2) Lack of clear guidelines on helping secure temporary release or bail for defendants during trial. Currently, the basic criteria focus on whether the accused tends to flee or commit crimes that disrupt the peace. Owing to this, accused persons in border areas or those implicated in narcotics cases usually do not receive assistance.

(3) To date, the Justice Fund has not delivered assistance to any victim of human-right violations, as no request has been approved due to problems with legal interpretation. Based on current criteria, only persons subject to persecution by state officials or those suffering at the hands of unauthorized state officials can seek help.

(4) Because, under the current framework, only projects from central agencies get support in distributing legal knowledge to people, approved projects lack diversity.

In response to these recommendations, the Office of Justice Affairs plans to improve relevant laws to accommodate more people’s access to the Justice Fund.

Digital Justice: Solution to Inequalities in the New Normal As the COVID-19 outbreak has significantly limited access to the fund, the Office of Justice Affairs is developing digital systems, including mobile applications, to deliver services. The office has also set up a Digital Exchange Center and acquired Big Data for the fund.

These developments aim to help streamline the work process, remove the need for people and officials to travel, and decentralize the process to grant everybody convenient access to the justice system in a sustainable and equal manner.

“To reduce inequalities in the judicial process during the new-normal period, the first thing to do is to educate people about the role of the Justice Fund. The Justice Fund should also expand its scope of work. For instance, it should recruit lawyers specializing in different fields, so they can deliver legal assistance or facilitate mediation before legal battles escalate,” Dr. Kiratipong said.

Digital Justice: Solution to Inequalities in the New Normal

Assistance Methods to Curb Inequality for Women and Children during COVID-19

The symposium also discussed problems faced by vulnerable groups, such as children and women, affected both directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 outbreak. The discussion allowed various parties in Thai society to seek solutions and address the problems in a timely manner.

Mr. Surasek Yuthiwat, managing director of Toolmorrow, said in response to findings that the outbreak has pushed children deeper into the online world, the “You Change, Your Kids Change” project was launched. The increasing amount of time children spend online leaves them more vulnerable to online threats, while parents still lack adequate knowledge to protect them.

The “You Change, Your Kids Change” project offers parents lessons on how to deal with children/grandchildren who have “nomophobia”, or fear of going without mobile phones. Apart from teaching parents to deal with youngsters suffering from this condition, the project also monitors their performance via the LINE app. Results, so far, indicate the project has helped to reduce social inequalities. The project has also helped cut the expense of physically attending these classes and reduced spending on psychiatric help for the affected youngsters.

Toolmorrow has designed the course to suit “parents of all economic classes” hoping that such online lessons will serve as powerful tools in reducing social inequalities.

“Nowadays, media can inspire and educate the masses, while creative media can even perpetuate social changes... Do not just focus on raising awareness about an issue. Media should now deliver help, too, because they have the power to do so at this time,” Mr. Surasek concluded.

Ms. Montira Narkvichien, regional communications specialist for UN Women – Asia Pacific, presented “COVID-19 and Violence Against Women: The evidence behind the talk”, a research study by her agency. Conducted between September 2019 and November 2020, the study shows that women across the Asia-Pacific region were subject to violence during the spread of COVID-19. Backed by artificial intelligence, the research cited images of abused women posted on social media. During lockdowns, Twitter was also rife with derogatory, malicious, or aggressive comments about women. The use of misogynistic words online soared during lockdowns, especially in Thailand, where the usage was up to 22,384% higher than in other countries. Women also faced online shaming and violence from both their families and their communities during the lockdown.

The biggest concern from these findings is that women have been confined with their abusers during lockdowns and, as a result, have faced rising physical and emotional abuse. Moreover, access to the judicial process has been more difficult than usual during periods of lockdown.

Women should be included more in the policy-making process to ensure policies respond to their needs. It's better to have women working for the right to express their honest opinions and needs. This mechanism is the critical success for involving women's voices in the joint decision-making stage. Then, the equality place for everyone in society exists.” Ms. Montira concludes.

The symposium underlined that specialists from various fields, when brought together, can connect the dots and present a clearer picture of problems arising in Thai society during the COVID-19 outbreak. With everyone adapting to the new normal, all existing mechanisms must be adjusted to ensure they remain relevant, meaningful, and able to reduce social inequalities.

Digital Justice: Solution to Inequalities in the New Normal

Published : July 06, 2021