A new report from the Bangkok-based human rights organization Reprieve says Thailand is among the countries where foreign lawyers who have lived and worked in Thailand for at least five years are almost always granted a visa and a license to practice law.
The organization says the number of foreign lawyers in Thailand has tripled over the past five years, with about 7,600 of them being granted licenses and permits to practice in the country.
Reprieve said the report, titled “The Perils of Permission: Thailand’s Foreign Law and Legal System,” comes after several months of pressure from the country’s human rights watchdog and other legal groups.
The group says Thailand has granted foreign lawyers permits to practise law in nearly half of the country, with only a handful of judges and prosecutors granting licenses.
“As the country has become increasingly popular, foreign lawyers have begun to seek to operate legally in the courts,” said Reprieve’s director, Sam Smith.
“Thailand’s foreign legal system is failing to protect them and Thai courts continue to fail to apply the laws that the Thai people have elected to govern their lives and livelihoods.”
In a written response to the report in Thai, a Thai government spokesperson said the country is committed to fostering fair and transparent legal systems.
“The government of Thailand is committed not to allow any foreign legal practitioners to enter or stay in Thailand without legal authorization,” the spokesperson said.
“Foreign legal practitioners are subject to the laws of the land, as is everyone else.”
The government has been criticized for its lack of openness and transparency in the legal system and its decision to deny permits for foreign lawyers.
A recent study by the Bangkok Bar Association found that more than half of Thai judges and government prosecutors who granted permits to foreign lawyers were themselves foreign lawyers, and many had not practised law in the countries of their birth.
Thailand is among three Southeast Asian countries to allow foreigners to practice legally in a number of courts.
The country’s government says it has a legal system based on the principle of “one country, two systems” and does not discriminate against foreign lawyers on the basis of nationality or religion.
The country has recently tightened its restrictions on foreign legal professionals, including by banning foreign lawyers from visiting their native countries.
Last year, the Thai government blocked several foreign legal associations from operating in the capital, Bangkok, and other cities, citing the countrys “policymaking system” as the main reason.
The government has since extended the ban, and a similar one has been in place in the southern province of Pattaya, but there are no foreign legal services there.
A government spokesman has denied that the ban has resulted in restrictions on the ability of foreign legal groups to operate.
“We are very clear that foreign lawyers are welcome in Thailand, whether they come here from the United States, France, or even other countries,” the spokesman said.
“There is no restriction in our system on foreign lawyers operating in Thailand.
There is no ban in Thailand of foreign citizens applying for a Thai license.
Thailand has never discriminated against foreigners.”
Thailand has also long been a stronghold for U.S. law firms.
It has been the second largest source of U.N. foreign assistance after the U.K., according to data compiled by the International Federation of Law Abroad.
The U.k. has been a major donor to Thailand, giving the country more than $1 billion since 2008.
The U.s. embassy in Bangkok declined to comment on the report.