Assembly To Debate Criminal Procedure Code

The National Assembly is scheduled to begin debating next week a new criminal procedure code that will dictate everything from arresting suspects to the hearing of cases before the Supreme Court, officials said this week. 

If signed into law, the 187-page code will replace the 44-page code that has dictated police and judicial procedure since 1993.

“The old procedures have a lot of shortfalls,” Hy Sophea, secretary of state at the Justice Mini­stry, said Wednesday. “We must add items related to human rights issues and international conventions.”

The new code—which was drafted with assistance from France—is “clear, detailed and it points to solutions when there are disputes,” Hy Sophea said.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said the draft took seven or eight years to complete.

“We added more to [the code] to make it modern like other countries’,” he said.

But some observers said that, despite being a definite improvement, the new legislation has flaws.

Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphan said more was needed to protect the rights of people accused of crimes.

He pointed to the continuation of the practice of denying individuals in police custody access to a lawyer until the accused is sent to court. This period can currently last as long as 48 hours, but could be up to 72 hours for a felony under the new law.

“When a person is arrested, he is afraid and will just answer questions,” Monh Saphan said. “They must have the right to have an attorney immediately.”

A Thursday statement by the Asian Human Rights Com­mis­sion urged the National As­sem­bly to adopt a version of the code that would allow the accused access to an attorney from the time of his arrest. Suspects sometimes have confessions tortured or intimidated out of them by police during this 48-hour window, the Hong Kong-based rights NGO said.

Monh Saphan also took issue with a provision that continues the practice of not immediately releasing defendants acquitted by the municipal and provincial courts.

According to the draft, the prosecutor has one month to appeal the acquittal, during which time the acquitted defendant must remain behind bars.

And if the prosecutor does then appeal, the acquitted defendant must remain in jail until the appeal hearing is held, the draft states.

“My proposal is that there should be a release first,” Monh Saphan said. “The current situation is that when [a case] is appealed, it could take three to four months or even a year to have a hearing.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive di­rector of the Cambodian Defen­ders Project, said there are many changes that must be made to the new law.

Sok Sam Oeun noted that the draft has detailed instructions regarding how police can search a suspect’s home, but no instructions for police regarding searches of people or vehicles.

“Police should have the right to do these things, but when it is not clearly said in the law it is a violation of people’s rights,” he said.

Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social Development, said the draft was based heavily on French criminal procedure law, but not the most current version of the French code.

“Under the old French system, the rights of the defendant are ancillary compared to the search for the truth,” Theary Seng said, adding that the new code needed to be “more in line with universal instruments focusing on individual defendant rights.”

Laurent Lemarchand, first coun­selor at the French Embas­sy, said the embassy “thoroughly disagrees that this is an outdated French law.”

“[The procedural code] is up to the best international standards. It has been drafted quite openly [and] it has been published,” he added.



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