Reform Needed With New Appeal Courts on the Way

As part of a trio of long-awaited judicial laws passed last month by the National Assembly, the country’s judicial system is set to integrate a number of new provincial appeal courts, expanding access to the appeal process to people imprisoned outside Phnom Penh.

But the only existing Appeal Court is still failing to protect the basic rights of those on trial, according to a report released Monday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

Based on 204 cases between March 2013 and January of this year, CCHR found that insufficient evidence was often presented against defendants, increasing the likelihood that a judgment would have no basis in either the evidence presented or the law itself.

“Besides the overall concerns related to the lack of independence of the judiciary in Cambodia,” CCHR’s monitoring report says, reform efforts should prioritize “the systematic failure of judges to inform and explain defendants of their rights [and] the high numbers of hearings where defendants are not present.”

The report also found that more must be done to reduce the backlog of cases and ensure that they proceed in a timely manner.

The eventual establishment of provincial courts of appeal is a step toward this. The move was announced by the government in 2012 and enshrined into law this year.

Once up and running, it is expected that these satellite appeal courts will help resolve the ongoing issue of prisoners being unable to make it to Phnom Penh for their hearings. But legal experts have said that due to a lack of qualified judges and legal staff, the new courts may do little to improve the quality of the appeals process.

Appeal Court President You Bunleng said he had already been in talks with CCHR about the need for certain reforms.

“I will wait to see the report of CCHR and the points they have written about,” he said.

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