Constitutional Court to decide May 23 whether to accept petition to try Srettha, Pichit

SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2024

The Constitutional Court is scheduled to decide next Thursday (May 23) on whether to accept for trial a petition against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his newly appointed Prime Minister’s Office minister, Pichit Chuenban.

On Wednesday, a group of 40 outgoing senators filed a complaint via Senate President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, seeking a court verdict on whether both Srettha and Pichit are still qualified to remain in office as per relevant constitutional clauses.

The complainants’ petition said that the prime minister violated the Constitution by appointing Pichit to the Cabinet despite his lack of qualifications and prohibited qualities.

At their meeting next Thursday, the Constitutional Court’s judges are expected to decide whether to accept the senators’ petition for trial and whether Srettha and Pichit should be suspended from their duties while a final verdict is pending.

Pichit was among the 13 newly appointed Cabinet ministers sworn in before His Majesty the King on May 3 in an oath-taking ceremony led by the prime minister.

Srettha maintained on Saturday that his appointment of Pichit was “legitimate and lawful”, adding that he had consulted with the Council of State – the government’s legal advisory agency – before coming to the decision.

“I am confident that I can answer all questions, because my decisions are based on correct principles,” Srettha said, adding that he had no problems with being scrutinised.

Constitutional Court to decide May 23 whether to accept petition to try Srettha, Pichit

Some critics say Pichit does not meet constitutional requirements that government ministers must have “evident integrity” and “no behavior that is a serious violation of or fails to comply with ethical standards”. The charter also prohibits anyone who has received a prison sentence – except for negligence, petty offences, or defamation – from becoming a Cabinet minister.

In 2008, while representing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a corruption case, Pichit and two junior colleagues were charged with offering a cash bribe of 2 million baht contained in a paper bag to officials of the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

They were sentenced to six months in jail each for contempt of court despite their argument that the bag was supposed to contain only snacks.

After the trio completed their jail terms, public prosecutors dropped the bribery charges. However, the Law Society of Thailand revoked their licences to practise law for breaking its rules of conduct. Pichit’s permit to practise law has never been renewed despite his repeated applications.

When Srettha’s Cabinet was formed in September last year, Pichit was tipped to become PM’s Office minister, but his name was dropped from the lineup at the last minute on Pichit’s request after widespread public criticism. Instead, he was appointed as the PM’s adviser on legal affairs. That changed in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.