Thailand establishes environmental crimes court

Those who damage Thailand’s environment will find that Thai justice can be green and mean as the government approved a proposal last week to establish a court dedicated to trying environmental crimes that will begin accepting cases in 2022 as part of a national master plan for managing natural resources.

“Everything we are going to do is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the government made a commitment to the world community to respect,” said Bantoon Srethasirote, a spokesman for the National Reform Committee for Natural Resources and the Environment.

While the new court came about as part of the natural resources plan, it is represents how the justice system has been evolving in response to the major problems facing Thailand. Aside from the environmental crimes court, special court divisions have also been established during the past two years dedicated to trying cases solely dealing with human trafficking, narcotics crimes and corruption.

Thailand has undergone a transformation from an economy and society dominated by agriculture to one driven by industrial manufacturing in just a few decades. The rapid changes have taken some heavy tolls on the Kingdom’s environment. Concern over environmental damage has been steadily growing, and many local civil society groups have formed to try and protect Thailand’s environment and raise awareness.

That awareness and those concerns have now become part of the thinking of some members and sectors of the government who are trying to integrate green approaches into national policies. In fact, Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy designed to move Thailand towards a society and economy based on innovation and higher technologies, also emphasizes development of green technologies.

Bantoon voiced an extremely optimistic view of the court and the master plan for natural resources. “We will continue to develop but without any negative impact on the environment and people’s health or quality of life,” he said.

The cabinet approved the plan last week. As part of it, Bantoon said the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will amend several environmental laws, including the 1992 Environment Quality Promotion Act and the 1961 National Act, although he did not specify what the changes would be.

As part of the plan, several government agencies will work with local communities on reforestation and restoring or improving soil quality.

Pilot areas have been selected to test implementation of the plan, including forest-covered mountains in the northern provinces of Nan, Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai to prevent encroachment, which has been a problem in many areas.

Map Ta Phut, a major industrial area in Rayong province has been selected to test city planning under the new master plan, as the area has suffered from various kinds of pollution from heavy industry in recent decades.