Lawyers agree to help farmers over rice

The Lawyers Council of Thailand has agreed to help farmers sue the government for payment delays under the government's rice-pledging scheme.

The council assured the farmers that there is "zero" chance they will lose the case.

The council and the farmers are also considering filing a criminal suit against those involved in the implementation of the scheme for fraud and violating Section 84 of the constitution, that supports free and fair economic systems.

Dej-udom Krairit, president of the council, said a civil suit would first be lodged in three cases to demand payment of the money owed to the farmers for their rice under the government scheme months ago.

In the first case, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives (BAAC), the caretaker ministers involved in the rice scheme, and the political parties involved will be named as the first, second, and third defendants.

The BAAC is to be sued for failing to pay rice-pledging money while ministers and parties involved will be sued for their involvement in the scheme's implementation, said Mr Dej-udom.

The farmers want their overdue payments paid plus 7.5% interest, he said.

In the second case, the farmers intend to sue the BAAC for violating the rice-pledging contracts by refusing to pay the farmers money as it was required to under the scheme, he said.

In the third civil case, a certain number of farmers will sue ministers, parties, and other parties for embezzlement because the contracted rice millers refused to give them a formal rice-pledging certificate which is required to claim their money from the BAAC, said Mr Dej-udom.

Some farmers have been waiting for months for payment under the scheme. The government is struggling to arrange payment as it is now in a caretaker capacity.

The government should have been a sole defendant in this third civil case but unlike in the US legal system, the Thai government is not considered a juristic person, he said.

The council also agreed to set up another legal team to study the possibility of filing a criminal suit against those involved in the implementation of the rice scheme for defrauding the farmers, he said.

The team would determine whether the scheme is deemed a violation of Section 84 of the charter which ensures free and fair economic systems.

The government is accused of interfering with rice prices by offering to pay the farmers for their rice at prices far higher than the median prices in the market and monopolising the rice trade system in the country.

These decisions were reached at a meeting between the council and affected farmers from 19 provinces led by Prasit Boonchuey, president of the Thai Farmers Association. The meeting was held at the council's headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok.

The council needs two months to compile evidence before formally lodging the lawsuits.

The affected farmers would not be charged for any legal costs as these cases are considered consumer-related ones, said Mr Dej-udom.

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