A lack of proper legal assistance in the Cambodian court system is a key obstacle to the proper administration of justice, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said this week.
The rights group said it has conducted a study of 245 criminal cases in Phnom Penh and Kandal provinces, in which three percent of defendants did not have legal representation.
Mang Monika, a senior trial monitor at CCHR, said on Monday that the centre will issue a new report next week that evaluates a sampling of hearings from 2010 and which highlights the lack of legal representation for criminal defendants as well as a rise in temporary arrests.
“We see that 97 percent [of defendants with legal representation] is a good figure, but it is not enough when the law requires 100 percent.”
She added that the lack of legal representation was largely because the defendants were unable to afford lawyers, while the budget allotted for providing public defenders has not been adequate.
It is not enough when the law requires 100 percent.
CCHR noted, however, that some progress had been made. The 97 percent representation rate in the 245 cases examined last year is two percentage points higher than a similar study done in 2009, in which five percent of defendants did not have legal counsel.
CCHR also found that the number of temporary arrests of criminal suspects had fallen between January and June last year to 84 percent among 532 general cases, from 88 percent among 199 general offences the previous year.
The rights group earlier this month unveiled what it called the Trial Monitoring Project newsletter, the group’s “latest tool for the promotion of fair trial rights in the Cambodian legal system”, according to a statement issued on March 3.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, expressed concern this week that the courts would hold any hearings for criminal defendants without lawyers being provided for the accused, saying it represented a blatant disregard for the law.
“[In these instances] the accused is denied his rights. In our law this is incorrect; [defendants] are required to have lawyers,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kandal Provincial Court President In Vanvibol declined to comment on the CCHR findings but said that all criminal defendants appearing in the provincial court would be represented by lawyers, adding that there were an ample number available.
“It is impossible if there is no lawyer. Normally in a criminal hearing the lawyer must be appointed by [the court],” he said.
“If there is no lawyer, how can [the court] proceed?”