But It’s The Law Your Honour
I get many opportunities these days to have dinner with a few interesting and influential Thai people and the other day I was having dinner with a judge, a few senior lawyers and other key people when during the course of the evening they gave me their particular views about corruption, labour laws and with a slight prompt from me, their views on employment agencies who don’t pay their employees or who exploit foreigners and to how foreigners currently fit into Thai law. It was all very interesting indeed. Unfortunately I cannot say what it was we discussed for fear of being taken down a dark alley and being shown the blunt end of Thai justice…
However, I do want to discuss three slightly controversial ones that I was party to recently and for which you may find interesting.
The first one was from a young male lawyer who believe it or not got up and presented an argument about how current laws were preventing the publication of obscene material, photographs, movies and such like in Thailand… ok stop sniggering at the back.
To cut what was a lucid and solid argument down to a few sentences, his point was that under current copyright laws, it is actually not illegal to create obscene material in any form whatsoever (meaning: you CAN take photos of naked ladies in the naughty bars for example) but what you CANNOT do is to distribute them because current Thai law makes this illegal. What constitutes distribution of course is up for debate and posting them onto a website for example was argued as not being ‘distribution’ but merely publication. However being handed a CD in Panthip plaza was considered distribution in the severest sense of the word and was subject to criminal law. I did ask if receiving a copy was illegal in Thailand and was told ‘no’ unless it was your intention to distribute it on yourself, and that the ones who would be in trouble are those who distributed it to you in the first place. This point in particular was interesting because I asked as a side question later if this same rule applied for receiving copies of pirated software, which I always presumed was receiving stolen goods (under UK law), and again it was alluded to (but not confirmed) that the same rules apply as to the distribution of obscene material… in that it’s no problem to receive it but not re-distribute it, but I am not so sure and I am sure Microsoft itself would have a fit at this thought.
There were many interested parties to this particular debate but the thing that was particular interesting was the ‘moral’ argument and the ‘sexual intercourse’ argument that several senior people (one of them a judge) made. The moral debate is the main reason why much sexual and obscene material is not allowed to be published and distributed across Thailand but this was a minor moot point compared to the views expressed about the sexual act itself being captured and published and that one notion had people popping their clogs in sheer fright that such a thing could even be considered. I personally found it all very amusing especially when the presenter mentioned that the average punter could pop down to certain go-go bars and see such acts which could be captured on a phone video and distributed across the web in seconds… the amount of foot shuffling and murmurs at that one had me chuckling. So the next time you are in a bar and you want to capture a lady on your camera and the mamasan is shouting at you to put it away, just tell them under the Thai copyright act, that it is ok to capture the image as long as you don’t intend to distribute it and that hand on heart you are only going to look at it later and not move it onto a medium for distribution… I’m sure she will believe you and let you merrily click away, honest.
The second one was from one of the young female lawyers’ who was chomping at the bit about how Farangs are using current loopholes in the law to obtain property in their names (i.e. Using majority shareholding or nominees under the banner of a company) and how she was proposing a new bill to close these current loopholes basing her arguments on these Farangs actually not contributing anything to Thailand but just taking “Thai land away from us Thais who cannot afford to own our own land and why should they be allowed to own our land when we cannot” sort of thing – all well and good but then she started to state however that Thailand still needed and indeed wanted our investments and cash to help build the developing country that was Thailand. On that basis, she proposed that Farangs should still be encouraged to come in and spend and indeed “invest” in Thailand but not be allowed to own anything… it was at this point that I actually raised my hand; more to alleviate the blood rushing to my now purple face than anything else; and asked the simple question of “why should the foreigners even bother if they are not allowed to show something for their investment”…
Young Thai lawyer: “Um, erm… what do you mean?”
Me: “ok… you state that you / Thailand wants’ foreigners to bring in their money and to invest in Thailand, right?”
Young Thai lawyer: “Um… er yes…”
Me: [Deep breath] “ok, can you just explain to me, because your presentation doesn’t elaborate on this subtle point, but what’s in it for the foreigner? I mean, think about it. He brings in say 10 million baht and invests it somewhere in Thailand perhaps with the intention to set up a company providing jobs to Thai people. He wants to trade in Asia and live here. He loves Thailand but he also wants somewhere to live and rest each night… his expectations are that he wants a house with his own land, not too much to ask considering his investment in your country.”
Young Thai lawyer: “Yes but… why should the foreigner own land when so many Thais cannot afford to own their own land in their own country? It’s just not fair and so I want to stop this until ALL Thais can own land first”
Me: “Ok… Somehow I think in that case we are in for a long wait then. Let me put it another way. Do you think everyone in the UK, Europe, America and elsewhere in the West can own their own land?”
Young Thai lawyer: “I don’t know and I don’t care… I am only interested in Thailand”
Me: “Ah! Well let me educate you then… the answer is no they cannot because believe it or not, we do actually have poor people back home too, furthermore, in the West, foreigners such as yourself from Thailand can and do come in to our countries and can legally own land while many of the natives cannot afford to do so but do you want to know something, it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference except for perhaps that the property prices have increased. In fact let me point out that the greater the investments that come into Thailand, the higher the property prices will likely become thus making it even harder for the average Thai to own their own land”
Young Thai lawyer: “ah yes, but your countries are developed, we are still developing so we need your money to help us grow and to help us own our own land…”
Me: “ok, let me ask this then. How fast do you think your country will grow if there are no incentives for us foreigners to even stay here? Our investment doesn’t guarantee that we will get a continued visa, in fact getting married and having kids here doesn’t guarantee that either, so let me ask again, what’s in it for the foreigner, and why should he invest his money into a country that shows him no loyalty in return for his investment?”
Young Thai lawyer: “ok… I tell you what; I will change my conclusion to show that tenure should be allowed for foreigners to stay here, meaning that a continued visa basis be issued and that a recommendation for immigration should be made to allow this. But my opinion about the loopholes remains because Thai-“land” should be for Thais only and this is my intention”
At this I just rolled my eyes and bit my tongue. What I really wanted to say was “well actually, why don’t you just change it to say that if you cannot beat the foreigners then you should join them instead and perhaps your goal is to just find one stupid enough to marry you and buy you a house thus fulfilling your dream of a Thailand owned by Thais with foreign money” but I didn’t want to put these unnecessary thoughts into her pretty little legal head. The key thing is, if her proposal ever gets to become law, your investment opportunities in Thailand may become a closed book… time will tell.
The final one came from one of the young female lawyers who came in today delighted to show me and her colleagues an article she had just read that had appeared a website from a popular news agency in London.
Basically the report was about a court ruling in the UK about two court cases where the ex-wives of two down trodden males where awarded huge pay outs. This of course is nothing new but what was new ‘under the banner of the law’ was that these two cases where made on lost ‘future’ earnings and wealth that their ex-wives could have had.
The first case cited was from a multi-millionaire who claimed a lower court had awarded his former wife too much money and the other one was from an appeal by an ex-wife who claimed she had not been given enough. In both cases the judges said the two cases were decided on the ‘principle of fairness.’
One of the ladies who won the challenge (makes it sound like some sort of competition doesn’t it) had a ruling in her favour because her former husband agreed to only pay her an annual maintenance of 250,000 pounds for a prescribed yet limited period of time (how dare he offer such a poultry sum with a limit on it, such a cad!). Anyway, she claimed she should receive maintenance for life and the court agreed because she had kids with him and it was decreed that because she had given up a well-paid job to raise their children she was entitled a lifetime payment. What ever happened to the ‘until kids are 18 or leave school rule?’ – It would be interesting to hear if he will be allowed access to his kids in the mean time nut knowing the bitterness that sometimes follows these things, I bet he hasn’t even got that privilege either and will be seen abseiling down Big Ben in the near future in a Spiderman suit protesting about his rights.
In the other case, the guy lost his challenge against an order to give five million pounds to his former wife after less than three years of marriage. They didn’t have children and so the ruling on the first case couldn’t be established but, and this is the insane bit, it was actually ruled that she was entitled to a more substantial settlement because she married with expectations of a future wealthy lifestyle – blow me, what happened to getting married with expectations of love and growing old and having kids etc… this one actually got married with expectations of the wealth she could earn. Makes you wonder if she was a bar girl in a previous life doesn’t it.
Just what on earth is happening back in the West these days I ask myself? Talk about giving women a Cart Blanche ticket on the male gravy train. As if it wasn’t bad enough before this latest ruling. So if there ever was a justification for heading out to Thailand to escape the western bints then this latest ruling is it. The one thing that worried me in particular about this article was that it was a Thai ‘female’ lawyer who brought it to my attention in the first place. God help us all if the Thai ladies and the Thai legal system gets this sort of thinking into their heads, we will all be doomed for sure…
Scary thoughts from the young lawyer, but in my travels, quite representative of most.