The backlog of thousands of criminal and civil cases waiting to be resolved by Cambodia’s judicial system increased by almost 700 in 2004 compared to the previous year, a government official reported Thursday.
Justice Ministry Secretary of State Y Dan said that there are 125 more criminal and 564 more civil cases before the country’s already backlogged and beleaguered court system than in 2003.
“The cases are piling up,” Y Dan said at a conference looking at access to justice and alternative ways to resolve conflicts.
“Without money, without financial support, you cannot do anything,” Y Dan said, blaming the shortage of resources available to the Justice Ministry for the problems.
This year alone, there are 2,276 criminal cases waiting to be heard and 11,243 civil cases, Y Dan said.
At the end of 2003, there were 2,151 criminal cases and 10,679 civil cases in the queue.
Even as the number of cases waiting to be heard increases, Thav Kimhor, director of the Interior Ministry’s Central Criminal Department, said crime is increasing as well—some 2,200 more criminal cases were reported in 2004 than in 2003.
Y Dan said one alternative the government and NGOs are examining is handling petty crimes and civil matters—such as divorces and neighbor disputes—at the commune level through local leaders.
Several village, commune and district leaders who spoke at the conference said they already handle many of those cases because of the long delays in court.
“If we refer to the court, even a divorce case can last three years,” said Long Nget, a commune chief from Kompong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district.
“Solving problems at the commune level costs nothing,” he said.
But Long Nget said if local leaders are to resolve cases, the government must outline what their roles and responsibilities will be.
“If we are to have power, a law must be adopted saying what those powers are,” he said.