ASEAN Justice Innovation 2023: The Rule of Law, Data and the Future of Justice in ASEAN


The ASEAN Justice Innovation 2023 event, has marked a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice and legal reforms in the Southeast Asian region. This collaborative initiative, a partnership between the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) and the World Justice Project (WJP), has set out to elevate ASEAN's use of the "Rule of Law Index" as a tool for essential legal and judicial reforms.


The Rule of Law, recognized as a cornerstone of sustainable development by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), plays an instrumental role in fostering equitable societies. As the belief goes, without a foundation built upon the Rule of Law, the attainment of other developmental goals remains elusive. The Rule of Law acts as a fundamental instrument to curtail state powers, ensuring they do not supersede the rights of citizens. It strives to guarantee equal access to justice, freedom, and respect for the rights of others across societies.


The World Justice Project's "Rule of Law Index," introduced in 2008, has been a significant global effort to measure and rank countries based on their adherence to the principles of the Rule of Law. In its recent assessment of Thailand's performance in 2565 B.E. (2022 C.E.), the index revealed that Thailand secured a score of 0.50, placing it at the 80th position out of 140 countries worldwide. While Thailand maintained its rank within the top 10 among the 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, it stood at the 25th position out of 42 in the upper middle-income category.


The Rule of Law Index comprises eight key factors, including Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice. These dimensions collectively provide a comprehensive picture of a country's legal and justice framework, shedding light on areas of strength and areas in need of improvement.


This valuable information was unveiled at the ASEAN Justice Innovation 2023 event, a platform that showcases innovative approaches to enhance justice across Southeast Asia. The event was jointly organized by the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) and the World Justice Project (WJP) on August 16, 2566 B.E. (2023 C.E.). By leveraging the insights provided by the Rule of Law Index, ASEAN member countries, including Thailand, can take strides towards promoting fairness, transparency, and equal access to justice in the region.


Dr. Srirak Plipat, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at the World Justice Project (WJP), presented Thailand's "Rule of Law Index" score for 2565 B.E. (2022 C.E.). The presentation had a diverse audience, including government representatives, political leaders, academics, private sector, and civil society. While the index suggested Thailand's Rule of Law performance was steady, its ranking had consistently declined over time.


Dr. Srirak delved into the findings, revealing that four out of eight key indicators had scores below the regional Asia-Pacific average. These areas included government power restrictions, corruption, regulatory enforcement, and criminal justice.


Additionally, several indicators scored low, including addressing corruption, legal dissemination, public access to government information, minority group treatment, fairness in the justice process for accused individuals, and instances of retribution and rehabilitation gaps.


Despite these challenges, certain indicators performed relatively well compared to the regional average. These areas comprised court system transparency, resolving private sector disputes, accessible justice procedures, and transparent civil justice processes.


The Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), the sole United Nations Programme Network Institute for crime prevention and criminal justice in ASEAN, saw potential in collaborating with WJP. Using Thailand's Rule of Law Index scores, TIJ aimed to initiate a policy dialogue platform. The platform would encourage discussions, foster exchanges, and begin Thailand's journey toward a more equitable legal framework. It also highlights the importance of collective action in enhancing the Rule of Law, fostering a fair society for Thailand and the broader Southeast Asian region.


Prof. Dr. Kittipong Kittiyarak, Advisor to the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), stated that Thailand is among the few countries globally to have "Rule of Law" enshrined in its constitution. However, this concept has not been fully realized. Therefore, the Rule of Law Index, developed by WJP over 15 years, is considered a significant game changer. It should be used as an academic tool to develop a genuine rule of law framework and to initiate true judicial reform.


Collaborating with WJP, TIJ has brought Rule of Law Index data to the policy dialogue platform for this purpose. The goal is not only to aim for higher scores on Thailand's Rule of Law Index but to initiate a policy dialogue process involving all stakeholders, including the government, private sector, academia, and civil society. This aims to contribute proposals for fostering a genuine rule of law policy in Thailand.


Four core subjects have been chosen for discussion due to their continuous importance in Thai society. These align with the four factors in the Rule of Law Index where Thailand has received lower scores. These subjects include addressing corruption, open government data, reducing unnecessary or obsolete laws through legal reform, and reforming criminal justice processes. The platform serves as a starting point for discussions aimed at meaningful change.


While Prof. Dr. Kitipong Urapeepatanapong, Member, Board of Directors of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), Board of Directors of the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), and former President of the Thai Institute of Directors (IOD), addressed the issue of legal reform by eliminating unnecessary laws or legal simplification, he highlighted the challenges that Thailand faces in achieving significant progress in this aspect. This is primarily due to the continued use of conventional processes for law review in Thailand, which are time-consuming and do not keep up with the changing societal context.


Comparing Thailand to South Korea and Vietnam, where successful legal reforms and the elimination of unnecessary regulations have been achieved, Prof. Dr. Kitipong shared his insights. He noted that these countries have established dedicated agencies with full-time personnel and the authority to review and make decisions on legal reforms. This is a distinct departure from Thailand's conventional approach, which involves setting up committees to review, cancel, or amend laws. In Thailand, there are no specialized units, no continuous workforce, and the proposals are forwarded to the Legislation Council, an overloaded body, for consideration. Consequently, over the past several years, Thailand's legal reforms have made minimal progress.


Wichian Phongsathorn, President, Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT), stated that while Thailand's scores for both the Rule of Law index and transparency remain subpar, there is still some hope seen from the latest transparency scores Thailand received. The recent survey on public perceptions regarding corruption revealed that over 90% of the population refuses to tolerate corruption in any form going forward. Additionally, more than 70% indicated a desire to actively participate in solving the issue. The survey also highlighted that the most significant issue in Thailand that people want to see changed is corruption, ranking it as the top priority for change, even more than addressing economic challenges.


Therefore, recognizing the public's heightened awareness of the corruption issue, Mr. Vichian proposes a strategy to empower citizens further. This involves creating avenues for citizens to more easily monitor and scrutinize the state's use of power in all forms. He emphasizes the need for increased government transparency, ensuring easy public access to state information, fostering closer collaboration among organizations working against corruption, and instilling a strong sense of legal ethics within the public.


Prof. Dr. Surasak Likasitwatanakul, Director, the Center for Criminal Law and Criminology, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, addressed the issue of "recidivism" as a significant factor contributing to Thailand's low scores in the Rule of Law index. He pointed out that the issue of recidivism is linked to the problem of overcrowding in prisons. The Department of Corrections struggles to rehabilitate these inmates effectively and reintegrate them into society as envisioned.


The critical issue lies in Thailand's criminal justice system, which sends a significant number of people to prison unnecessarily due to an ineffective trial process. Therefore, if the country's judicial process does not implement alternative sentencing measures instead of incarceration, the continuous influx of individuals into overcrowded prisons will persist. As a result, correctional facilities will continue to receive more inmates than they can adequately accommodate, and the state will allocate substantial resources to manage these inmates' existence rather than facilitating their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.


An alarming cycle emerges where every three years, approximately 30% of released prisoners return to incarceration. When comparing this data with the World Justice Project's Rule of Law index, it becomes evident that there are systemic problems within Thailand's criminal justice process. These include the lack of effective diversion methods for criminal cases, as well as the history of criminal records preventing released prisoners from finding jobs and restarting their lives, leading them to reoffend.


Dr. Phiset Sa-ardyen, Executive Director, the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), stated that the World Justice Project's Rule of Law index is a crucial tool that provides a clear framework for discussing the development of the rule of law in Thailand with the participation of all sectors. With optimism, he anticipates that the ASEAN Justice Innovation 2023 platform, being the first of its kind in the region to drive the creation of new innovations for justice in ASEAN, will facilitate the use of data to design novel innovations in justice processes. These innovations will then be expanded within the network of innovators to address justice issues in the ASEAN region, fostering a dynamic momentum for ongoing and robust rule of law development.


Dr. Phiset also stressed that the collaboration between TIJ and WJP for this event marks just the beginning of efforts to drive the development of the rule of law and enhance the quality of justice systems in ASEAN. Particularly in Thailand, it aims to bring about transformative changes in the realm of rule of law. Given the complexity of this matter, which cannot be accomplished by a single entity, collaboration from all sectors is imperative. The commitment and dedication of political stakeholders are especially crucial in achieving this mission.


On the second day of the event, innovators from various countries in the ASEAN region came together to present new approaches to developing the rule of law and justice processes through technology in the topic “Enhancing People-Centered Justice Innovations in ASEAN.” The aim is to establish ASEAN as a region where justice is centered around the people. Following the unveiling of the overall Rule of Law Index for ASEAN from WJP, which revealed a global regression with a 61% score, the ASEAN region similarly experienced a regression with a 71% score. Singapore stands out as the exception, having achieved a relatively good overall score.


Each innovator showcased their work in legal innovation. Richard Malanjum, former Chief Justice of Malaysia, discussed "Access to Justice – A Key Factor Towards Justice." He emphasized that access to justice empowers citizens to lead dignified lives and ensures government effectiveness, societal development, and poverty alleviation. Access to justice is everything for citizens in crisis situations. He also highlighted the Mobile Court project as an example of bringing justice to remote areas.


In Thailand, TIJ and Chulalongkorn University conducted a survey on the needs in the justice process within the country in 2022. Acknowledging that the justice system is the foundation of people's lives, and that every individual encounters unique situations, understanding the people's needs in relation to the justice system is vital. Innovative justice initiatives were presented, such as Thailand's Central Investigation Bureau's project using crime data to predict cases and the use of the MySis Chatbot to assist citizens in resolving problems.


However, Police Captain Krerkkaiwan Kajohnkunchonlathorn, Head of Digital Strategy, Big Data Analytics Centre, Central Investigation Bureau, Royal Thai Police, cautioned against overly positive views of technology, highlighting the need to consider human resources and fair compensation. Designing technology without considering users' needs and focusing on innovation over practical application may lead to a lack of benefits and anticipating quick outcomes, whereas innovation takes time to integrate and use.



The representatives from Singapore's Community Justice Centre, Dr. Leonard Lee and Lee Eng Hong, emphasized that successful implementation of innovation for justice and the rule of law requires a comprehensive plan. Understanding the roles and objectives of participants, along with design, testing, and strategic implementation, are essential before actual use. They pointed out successful initiatives such as the Co-Parenting Application and the Automated Court Documents Assembly System.


Moreover, Assoc. Justice Jose Midas P. Marquez from the Supreme Court of the Philippines presented an innovation strategy for judicial innovations from 2022 to 2027. In Indonesia, Arsa Ilmi Budiarti, Researcher from Indonesia Judicial Research Society, a researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, collected data from citizen surveys, expert interviews, and government data to improve the justice system and innovation. Sam Venn, Section Lead for Children and Families, This Life Cambodia introduced the non-profit organization “This Life,” which aids vulnerable groups.


TIJ believes that the knowledge and networks gained from this event will play a crucial role in driving the creation of a just and reformed justice system in the future.

The ASEAN Innovation for Justice 2023: Rule of Law, Data, and the Future of Justice Systems in ASEAN event was held from August 16 to 18, 2023, at the Thailand Institute of Justice in Bangkok. Besides knowledge exchange and subgroup discussions on rule of law and justice processes in Thailand and the ASEAN region, workshop on “Shaping the Future of Justice” and an NFT artwork auctioned from inmates at Chonburi Central Prison and Thonburi Special Prison were part of the event's activities.