The government will spend a total of $13.7 million in the next three years to build new appeal courts outside of Phnom Penh along with free accommodation for judges and prosecutors across the country, according to the draft budget law for 2014, which is scheduled to be voted on at the National Assembly Tuesday.
Using foreign loans, which will total $3.61 billion over the next three years, $6.86 million will be spent on building accommodation for court staff, while another $6.84 million will be spent on constructing new appeal courts, according to the draft budget.
Sam Pracheameanith, chief of cabinet for Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, said that the new initiatives were important to expand access to the country’s higher courts.
“The construction of region-based appeal courts is in keeping with the people’s interests, because the government’s policy is to bring administration and public services closer to the people,” Mr. Pracheameanith added.
The Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh is currently the only appeal court in the country, a situation that human rights groups have long criticized for making it difficult for defendants to attend their appeal hearings, or prohibitively expensive to return home if they do.
In a May 2013 report, the rights group Licadho said that while the government had increased efforts to transport defendants to their appeal hearings in Phnom Penh, many of them ended up stuck in already overcrowded prisons in the capital rather than being returned to their home province.
The report noted that prisoners were often left distanced from their families, whom they rely on for food, medicine, money and other material resources, and that prisoners were increasingly refusing to make the trip to attend their hearing in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Pracheameanith said that he did not know how many new appeal courts would be built or where they would be located, referring questions to Chan Mono, director-general of the General Department of Administration, who could not be reached for comment.
Tan Seihak Dechak, prosecutor at Pursat Provincial Court, said that the construction of free housing for judges and prosecutors at provincial outposts would help relieve the financial burden of judicial officials, who are regularly rotated around the country and have never before received accommodation from the government.
“Judges and prosecutors rotate from province to province every four years, and we always use part of our own salary to cover these expenses,” Mr. Seihak Dechak said, adding that prosecutors made about $500 a month, while their deputies earned about $450 a month.
Asked if the new initiative would help curb corruption within Cambodia’s courts, Mr. Seihak Dechak denied that such a problem existed.