Reception of foreign private law in Thailand in 1925: a case study of specific performance
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This thesis explores the making of Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code in 1925 (‘Code of 1925’), especially the drafting method the draftsmen employed, and ascertains how the use of this method affected Thai lawyers’ understanding of rules and concepts of the Code. The Code of 1925 emerged from a period in which Thailand was under threat from colonisation by Western powers. As a result of a number of unbalanced commercial treaties between the Thai and foreign governments, the jurisdictional sovereignty of the country had been eroded by consular jurisdiction and the principle of extraterritoriality. These ‘unfair treaties’ forced the Thai government to establish a modern legal system as part of its attempts to recover full judicial autonomy. The work of codification of civil and commercial law, which began in 1908 under the direction of French draftsmen, produced the desired result in 1925 only after Phraya Manavarajasevi (Plod na Songkhla) became involved. Plod was instrumental in replacing the French Code civil with the BGB of 1900 as the principal model and introducing the Japanese Civil Code of 1898 (‘Minpō’) and the ‘copying method’ which he referred to as the ‘Japanese method’ to the new Thai-dominated drafting committee. The Japanese Code and the ‘Japanese method’ were chosen owing to Plod’s belief that the Japanese had established their civil code by copying the BGB. This thesis shows that Alan Watson’s theory of legal transplants is well suited for explaining this type of legal development: the draftsmen copied the wording of English translations of provisions of the BGB and the Minpō without much concern about their conceptual foundations. They finished their task within seven months. But Watson’s contention that successful legal borrowing does not require ‘a systematic knowledge of the law’ must be approached with great caution. Plod was misled by a secondary source he consulted into believing that the Minpō was practically a copy of the BGB. In reality, the Japanese Code was influenced by a variety of foreign laws, including German and French law. The drafting committee’s lack of knowledge about the rules and concepts they borrowed and the method they adopted led to difficulties in interpreting the rules and concepts in question. This is illustrated in this thesis by a case study of the legal rules in the Code of 1925 on specific performance. Most of the Thai provisions concerning non-performance and remedies for non-performance were copied from the BGB, but two important rules concerning the rights to performance and damages (Articles 213 and 215) came from the Minpō. These provisions were mainly influenced by French law, but Plod and most likely other Thai draftsmen erroneously believed that they were of German origin. The text of these two articles clearly put specific performance and damages as remedies for non-performance on equal footing. The consequence of this is that Thai academics who maintain that specific performance is the primary remedy for nonperformance have struggled to justify this point of view. Whenever they expound on the principle of the primacy of specific performance in Thai law, Thai writers produce contradictory statements because the wording of Articles 213 and 215 forces them to accept that the creditor in case of non-performance has the right to choose between specific performance and damages. This thesis shows that legal borrowing without a proper use of comparative law and legal history and a systematic knowledge of the law borrowed can lead to undesirable results. Thai lawyers must employ comparative and historical methods when discovering the true character of the Thai rules and concepts. With the help of these methods, they may find common ground in legal concepts and resolve some theoretical problems.