Judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal last week set a new administrative scheme to prioritize and limit the growing mountain of documents that require translation between the court’s three working languages.
Defense lawyers have seized on the failure to translate court documents as potential violations of their clients’ rights. Citing an alleged failure to translate 16,000 pages of evidence into his own language, French, Jacques Verges, lawyer for Khieu Samphan, refused to participate in an April bail hearing.
However, in a ruling obtained Monday, Co-Investigating Judges You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde told all parties that the court’s defendants are entitled to Khmer translations of indictments, introductory and submissions by the prosecution, as well as evidence.
“[T]he right to a trial within a reasonable period of time would be seriously undermined by any requirement for full translation of all documents on the case file,” the judges wrote in the order dated Thursday.
Motions, notes, correspondence and other documents are not vital for defendants’ understanding of the case against them and therefore need not always be translated, they wrote.
“The decision obviously looks to the ways in which other tribunals have dealt with this difficult problem,” said Rupert Skilbeck, head of the Defense Support Section, adding that the order may be subject to appeal by defense teams.
“We’ll have to wait and see what arguments they make,” he said.
The tribunal’s Court Management Section has until Monday to complete lists of all pending translation requests and estimated times to completion, the July 19 order stated.
By July 14, defense teams will submit requests for further translations—explaining how soon and why these are needed—which Court Management will tabulate on updated, confidential lists, the order said, adding that the Office of Administration must assign translators to defense teams.
Anne Heindel, legal adviser to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Tuesday the order hinged on how narrowly it restricts defendants’ access to documents.
“There’s no court that requires all pleadings to be translated,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any question that they can limit it. The question is where is the bottom line.”