Judges answering phone calls in court, report finds

A survey released yesterday found that judges commonly answered mobile phones during trials at the Phnom Penh and Kandal province courts, and that many defendants lacked legal representation while remanding people in pre-trial detention is widespread.

But the report also concluded that the two courts “appear to be doing a good job of adhering to fair trial standards in a number of areas.”

In support of this conclusion, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights report states that evidence was presented in most of the cases heard by the courts, though judges only informed the accused of their rights about half the time.

The CCHR based these findings on 199 trials that it monitored from August to December last year at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Kandal Provincial Court.

After observing frequent use of mobile phones at the court, CCHR’s monitors began recording this practice and found that judges answered a telephone during 17 of the following 60 proceedings, or 28 percent of the trials, according to the report. Out of all 199 trials, a lawyer was observed entering the judge’s deliberation room before the verdict in 32 trials, or about 16 percent of the total.

The report raised questions about both practices.

“These observations raised immediate questions about the independence and impartiality of the presiding judges and, at the very least, indicated that these judges had not adhered to the required ethical and professional standards,” the CCHR report states.

The report also said that 88 percent of all accused were put in pre-trial detention, which “suggested that the presumption against pre-trial detention in article 203 of the” Code of Criminal Procedure is “not being applied.” The report also found that defendants appeared without legal representation in 32 percent of all trials.

But the monitors also found examples of adherence to fair trial standards. For example, judges told the accused what he or she was charged with in all but one trial, and evidence was presented in 77 percent of the cases.

Kong Sam Onn, director of programs at CCHR, said yesterday the results of the report were “not surprising” given longstanding criticisms of the courts. The judiciary has come under fire in the past for everything from corruption to failing to protect basic rights.

Chiv Keng, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said yesterday that the courts are working toward “judicial reform.”

“We do everything for improvement,” he said. “It is a strategy and we have the will to reform.”

Asked about mobile phone use in the courts, he said that judges do need to answer emergency calls, though in other cases it is against court “regulations.”

“When they answer the phone, it does not mean that they receive calls from others asking for intervention in the court case,” he said. “If there is such a [call], the judge knows it and will not answer. Please don’t speculate.”

He said lawyers are not allowed into the judge’s deliberation room before a verdict, though some had entered in the past.

“Some lawyers enter the judge’s room, but they are not allowed to do that,” he said. “They were pushed out.”

Asked about the other criticisms, Mr Keng said that pre-trial “detention is based on the conditions required and stipulated by the law.” And he said trials do not proceed if defendants are without attorneys.



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