Judicial reform proceeded slowly during most of 2006, and the courts breached numerous times nearly every aspect of a defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Center for Social Development said Feb 23.
Speaking at the launch of the CSD’s annual court monitoring report, CSD Director Theary Seng said monitors witnessed little tangible reform between 2005 and 2006.
“The [judicial] system is still not independent, so that keeps things kind of at a standstill,” she said.
According to the report, violations of the right to a fair trial were primarily due to the failure of judicial officials to abide by national and international laws.
A total of 1,491 trials were monitored by the CSD in the Supreme Court, the Appeals Court, Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Kandal Provincial Court between Oct 1, 2005, and Sept 30, 2006.
Fifty-five percent of all defendants tried had no legal representation, the report found.
In addition, 31 percent of juvenile defendants were tried without counsel in the municipal and Kandal courts.
The report states that 39 percent of defendants put in pre-trial detention by the municipal and Kandal courts remained there for more than six months before receiving their hearings. Forty-six percent of juvenile defendants were kept for over six months in pre-trial detention.
By law, pre-trial detention for adults has a legal maximum of six months; if the accused is 13-to-18 years old, pre-trial confinement time cannot exceed two months.
Defendants were routinely denied the right to confront their accusers and cross-examine witnesses.
In the municipal court, 92 percent of trials were held without witnesses. Nonetheless, CSD put the conviction rate in that court at over 90 percent.
Chan Huon, secretary of state for the Justice Ministry, said the government was working to reform the courts, and welcomed the input of NGOs.
US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli called on the courts to address the issues of prolonged detentions and claims by some defendants that their confessions had been coerced.
But he lauded the judiciary for generally keeping courtrooms open to the public, which he said was not common in neighboring countries.
Ke Sakhorn, deputy director of the municipal court, said that some allegations of malpractice are made by people who are bitter after being found guilty.
The lack of witnesses and victims at trials is not the fault of the court as the court summons all parties but they sometimes don’t show up, he said.
Only half of the defendants have attorneys because the accused sometimes decide not to have a lawyer, Ke Sakhorn said.
The court is reforming and has trained its personnel to “eliminate acts of stupidity,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul.)