NGO: Cambodian Judges Usurp Court Protocol CourtProtocols

Justice for criminal suspects is suffering at the hands of Municipal Court officials, who often make snap judgments and neg­lect defendants’ rights, court monitors said last week.

Between 50 and 80 percent of Phnom Penh officials never tell suspects about their rights in the Cambodian criminal justice system, as is required by law, said Ngoun Makara, court watch project monitor for the Center for Social Development.

“The majority of judges always take 15 to 20 minutes for a judgment, and they never advise offenders on their rights to change judges or anything

else,” she said.

As a result, many suspects in misdemeanor cases are denied access to public defense lawyers and never have witnesses for their defense, she said.

Offenders should be informed of their rights as soon as they are arrested, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cam­bodian Defenders Project.

“In the United States, police must inform offenders of everything concerning their rights, otherwise court officials will throw out all of police evidence in the case,” he said.

Under Untac law, when the accused appears before the investigating judge for the first time, the judge must inform the acc­used of his or her rights and the charges that apply.

The law states that the accused must be informed of the right choose a lawyer or, if they cannot afford one, to request a government-appointed lawyer. The law also states that the accused has the right to answer or not answer the judge’s questions without legal counsel.

Judge Tan Senarong, however, said not all judges have time to read the suspects’ rights or spend hours deliberating on small cases.

“Judges need to judge at least five to seven cases each morning so we have to do it quickly but reasonably,” he said. “Not all judges read out the rights of offenders.”

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