After criticism from the UN human rights envoy earlier this week on the capabilities of the judiciary, a Justice Ministry official said yesterday that the government was working on a project to help courts clear their old case files.
Secretary of State Prom Sidhra said the government had been conducting a nationwide census of court information since the start of the year. He added that the information was being digitized to assist the government’s court reform agenda.
“We are working on clearing the old cases…and we are doing it with courts across the nation, including the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court,” Mr Sidhra said.
“All of the old court cases must be heard because they are piled up from years ago. It is the government policy to reform the judicial system and we will do it in every court.”
Mr Sidhra’s comments yesterday came just days after the special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, published a report on the performance of the judiciary. They also came as several old cases, involving high-profile figures like SRP leader Sam Rainsy and HRP leader Kem Sokha, were taken to court.
In the report, which took the Cambodian judiciary to task for its lack of independence and competence, Mr Subedi made mention of an “enormous backlog” of cases that needed to be dealt with at the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh.
Yesterday, however, Court of Appeal Deputy President Chuon Sunleng said there were very few old cases that had not been heard, as judges were working hard to clear the court’s backlog. Judge Sunleng added that there had been no formal instructions from the Justice Ministry to clear the old case files.
“We almost have no old cases left,” he said, adding that, even though the judges were working hard, it would take time to clear all the cases.
Prey Veng Provincial Court President Sok Kalyan said every court should be motivated to resolve their old case files, but added that he agreed with the Justice Ministry’s new project. “It will remind and push the courts to pay attention to the old cases,” he said.
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that he was not aware of the Justice Ministry project. Mr Sam Oeun said that, while clearing the backlog of cases was a good goal, he hoped that the old cases would still be investigated properly and treated fairly.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)