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New courts in Asia’s rapidly developing states offer an opportunity to understand how a court system takes root in a society. This article presents a case study of the development of administrative court structure, functions, and practice in Thailand: Southeast Asia’s newest system of administrative courts. The study examines why courts made sense to those who established them and how the courts’ authority is being utilized. For relatively powerless and resource-poor litigants, barriers to litigation may be many, but when these barriers are overcome, administrative courts exercise extraordinary influence, even when they fail to render a decision fully vindicating a plaintiff’s legal rights. Thailand lacks many of the supporting institutions and practices typical of developed Western democracies, such as a politically savvy and powerful legal profession, a rights-conscious judiciary, influential public and private organizations supporting litigation for rights, and public consciousness of rights. Yet following constitutional reform, rights-oriented litigation emerged in the administrative courts through the efforts of a small, self-sustaining community of activist attorneys. In the second part of the article we describe the career of a leading environmental litigator and his network and the mutually constructive effects of the outcomes of this litigation on the support structures for the courts.


Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Vol. 26, Issue 1 (2019), pp. 133-172