Currently, juveniles who run afoul of the law benefit from no special procedures when they are brought before Cambodia’s halting, backlogged court system and prosecuted as adults.
However the government this week said it was in the process of drafting procedural rules for criminal suspects under age 18 that will establish separate detention facilities, set maximum penalties at five years in jail, allow for criminal records to be expunged in adulthood and prevent the courts from bring criminal charges against suspects under 14.
“We need a place for juvenile trials and a place for questioning,” Ith Rady, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said yesterday.
“We will use the old court but the new procedures will suit children,” he said.
A 14-chapter draft law for juvenile justice is being drafted by the Council of Ministers, he said, adding that the government hoped to implement the new law on a pilot basis before it spreads around the nation.
“We will set one first and if it works we will work more in the provinces,” he said. “The new procedure will help children feel confident answering the judge and prosecutor.”
Licadho Monitoring Supervisor Am Sam Ath said yesterday he welcomed the government initiative but that he hoped that it would be accompanied by genuine court reform.
“We welcome this idea as children will have justice. We worry that there is a new court, but the reform of the courts is not yet very good,” he said.
According to Mr Sam Ath, there were 778 juveniles in the 18 prisons monitored by Licadho this year, of whom 258 were under court-ordered provisional detention.
Sambath Sokunthea, advocacy communications manager at the NGO Every Child, said her organization had provided technical assistance to the justice ministry in drafting the new law.