CJ rejects pick for Supreme Court chief

Accused of fishing for agreeable opinions

The Courts of Justice (CJ) has rejected the nomination of the Appeal Court president Sirichai Watthanayothin as president of the Supreme Court, said Suebpong Sripongkul, the CJ spokesman.

Sirichai: Passed over for Supreme Court

The CJ voted unanimously 14-0 to reject the nomination, despite Mr Sirichai being the most senior justice in line for the Supreme Court presidency.

A new Supreme Court president will assume the top post on Oct 1.

Mr Sirichai was the only contender for the top post as regulations dictate the president of the Appeal Court automatically stands first in line to be considered for the seat of Supreme Court president, replacing the incumbent, Weerapol Tangsuwan, who retires on Sept 30.

According to a source, the contender's qualifications and suitability had been vetted by a CJ sub-panel, which earlier determined Mr Sirichai was unfit to be president.

But the sub-panel's decision had to be put before the CJ, which yesterday also ruled against Mr Sirichai assuming the highest court's presidency.

Mr Suebpong said yesterday the CJ stood firm on the principle that the top administrator of the court must possess both seniority and the ability to manage the affairs of the Supreme Court.

Mr Suebpong said that while seniority was a critical criterion in deciding who should lead the court, it was not the only factor behind their decision.

Vetting the court president is conducted via the CJ's regulations governing the promotions and appointments of senior justices.

Mr Suebpong said the CJ had thoroughly debated Mr Sirichai's suitability and qualifications before deciding to reject his candidacy.

The CJ will convene a fresh meeting on Oct 11 to consider a senior judge for the post.

It is expected the name of Supreme Court vice-president Cheep Julamon will be raised at the meeting for consideration.

A source in the CJ Office said Mr Sirichai had earlier petitioned the CJ after the sub-panel ruled he was unfit for the top job, aiming to demonstrate that he was qualified to lead the court.

The source said the CJ had not provided Mr Sirichai an explanation as to his rejection, which upset him and led to the petition.

One of the reasons cited during the CJ meeting to reject Mr Sirichai was his decision to refer a drugs case, which reached the Appeal Court, for second and third opinions.

The Courts of First Instance ruled an offender in the case guilty and sentenced that person to life imprisonment.

The offender appealed against the ruling.

It was alleged that Mr Sirichai had sought too many rounds of opinions from senior judges about the case.

When a second opinion was made by two senior judges who felt the life sentence handed down by the Court of First Instance was justified, Mr Sirichai did not stop there and asked for further opinions as though he was trying to secure an opinion which he would find agreeable, the source said.

The source said Mr Sirichai had adopted a strict approach in conducting his duties as president of the Appeal Court.

He has faced complaints from his subordinates during the reshuffle of court staff and the complaints were forwarded to the CJ.

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