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Practical tips for dealing with 'legal encounters' in Phuket – Part 1

Not many people want to read about the laws before they engage in the pleasures of Phuket, be it as a tourist or as a part- or full-time resident. However, the same pleasure seekers can often be surprised, if not shocked, to discover that the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand aren't 'the same as back home' and aren't based on ‘western logic' but were written, at the time of discussion and enactment, on the basis of what was good for Thailand, and for Thai people.

Laws aren't usually written in any country by any government with the wellbeing of foreigners elevated above that of the indigenous population. It is often said, on those notoriously analysis-poor web forum comment sections, that 'Thailand doesn't have laws which favour or protect foreigners'.

However, the reality is that it is actually a visitor's obligation to understand and comply with the laws of the land and accept responsibility for mistakes in understanding.

There are, of course, some practical tips for common issues that arise in Phuket that can assist with 'brushes' with the law as set out in this Part 1 of this 2-part article:

1. Road traffic accidents
You will see regularly in the English language newspapers reports of road traffic accidents. If you ever pick up a Thai language printed newspaper or check online, you may also see such reports together with quite graphically shocking images, albeit with certain parts pixelated as a small mercy to the viewer. You might think graphic images of the results of accidents would result in the reduction of them, but unfortunately that is not the case.

In Thailand, when a road traffic accident occurs and you are involved, you must remember the following:

(i) Call the insurance company immediately.
(ii) If you get out of your vehicle to inspect damage, then make sure you get back in the vehicle whilst you await the insurance company representative.
(iii) Don't accept that you will be 'told' by the insurance company, or any other party, to simply 'accept blame' for the accident because it will be 'easier'. However, do not become heated or angry when not accepting blame if an accident wasn't your fault.
(iv) Keep a record of explanations, visibly write down what people are telling you, so they become conscious that there is a record.
(v) If you hire a car or buy a car, invest a few thousand Thai baht in a webcam, which has both front and back camera coverage. These are easy to install and can cut through any lies on who did what in an instant. It can also record any violent behaviour, which has been known to involve machetes, knives or guns.
(vi) Don't sign a witness statement in Thai at the police station, or even in English, until you have consulted a lawyer. You may be pressured to do things quickly as a police station is busy and won't want to spend too much time on a road traffic incident. However, you will not be able to change what you have said if you have sworn it was true and later realise it wasn't correct.

2. Presentation of your identification documents in different circumstances
Unfortunately, by law, foreigners in Thailand are required to carry at all times their original passports, or equivalent ID, which is unlikely to be anything other than the passport.

Remember that Thai nationals also have to carry their ID, so this law doesn't ‘target' foreigners. In practice the authorities will often accept Thai driving licenses or national ID cards as acceptable, provided they aren't checking visas, or provided you aren’t suspected of committing a crime.

Clearly this isn't practical if you are scuba diving, paragliding, kite surfing or conducting similar activities. Therefore, you should (a) take a photo of your passport photo page and visa page and store the photo on your phone, (b) keep a colour copy of both pages in your bag and (c) keep the original secure, preferably in a safe.

3. Becoming embroiled in insults /getting angry in person or in writing
Many tour guides, written in English, refer to 'Dos' and 'Don'ts' in Thailand. The problem is, the people most likely to commit faux pas and cultural gaffes are the type of people who wouldn't bother to check out cultural rules first.

These people find a way to display their feet up in the air, against the back of chairs or on airport seating; they push to the front of queues, wear inappropriate dress at temples, on motorbikes or in public places and will not even know what a 'Wai' is, or care. Fortunately, this is still a reflection of a minority of people.

That said, foreigners are known for 'getting angry' or as many Thais describe 'jai rohn' (literally translated as 'hot heart'). When this happens, it will most likely involve a miscommunication, confusion, or a non-acceptance of the result of a certain situation by the foreigner.

This can result in a tantrum which may include insults. There are very serious penalties for insulting a government officer; there are very serious penalties for insulting somebody's heritage or parentage; there are very serious penalties for writing negative comments on a forum in an insulting manner or for posting videos on YouTube, causing damage to Thailand.

If you wish to stay in Thailand, and not become embroiled in defamation cases in the courts or worse than that, cases relating to the 'Computer Crime Act', then you are strongly recommended to curb your temper and withhold any insults.

Please note that defamation laws in Thailand work in a very different way to those in many other countries. You must accept the laws of the land you are in as they are, as opposed to the laws you wish them to be. If you encounter any difficult situations, keep smiling and work out how to get out of the situation with minimum damage, for all participants.

By Desmond Hughes (Senior Partner) of Hughes Krupica.
Hughes Krupica is a law firm which specialises in Real Estate; Construction; Hospitality; Corporate; Marine; Dispute Resolution; and Litigation, operating in Bangkok and Phuket, servicing clients in relation to their business activities in Thailand and in other regions of Asia.

GPS coordinate: 7.962794, 98.385226

 Contact info:

Hughes Krupica Consulting (Bangkok) Co. Ltd

Phuket Office:
23/123-5 Moo 2, Kohkaew Plaza, 
The Phuket Boat Lagoon, Tambon Kohkaew, Amphoe Muang, Phuket 83000
Tel:+66 76 608 468 

Bangkok Office:
179 Bangkok City Tower, Fifth Floor,
South Sathorn Rd, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120
Tel: +66 2 872 173

47 B1

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