Seven trials at Phnom Penh Municipal Court were postponed Monday after a prosecutor called in sick, prompting cries of outrage from suspects who say they have already been detained longer than the law allows.
“I want to have my trial soon,” said robbery suspect Leang Sron, 19, before being transported back to Prey Sar prison, where he said he has already spent the last six months.
Article 1 of the Law on Duration of Pre-Trial Detention states no person shall be detained in excess of four months unless a judge extends that period to six months for further investigation.
Presiding Judge Buning Bunnary said she decided to postpone the trials after Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath called in sick.
The trials were put off until Dec 29.
The judge said even with the two week postponement, there were no suspects who had been held longer than the law allows.
She said that postponing trials incurs additional costs to the court system. “It is a waste of time and money when we postpone,” she said.
Suspect Leang Sron said he waited two and one-half hours at the court before a court clerk told him his trial was being postponed and he was to be sent back to prison.
“It is a waste of time for me,” Leang Sron said. “I want to know how big my sentence is.”
Thirty-six-year-old Yim Sothy’s trial was also delayed. He said he was frustrated after having been detained almost seven months without a trial on a charge of fraud.
“I think it is too long,” he said.
The judicial system has long been plagued with delays for a variety of reasons, one of them being a chronic shortage of judges and prosecutors.
Tuot Lux, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, said earlier this month there are only 120 judges and 65 prosecutors countrywide. The shortage of court officials, he said, has created a backlog of cases leaving many suspects held in police custody beyond the six-month limit.