A new system of regional appeal courts is moving closer to reality as the Ministry of Justice attempts to resolve the bottleneck of appeals in the justice system, officials said yesterday.
Currently, appellants can wait up to five years or more to have their cases heard in the Kingdom’s only appeal court, in Phnom Penh.
Secretary of State Ith Rady said yesterday that the ministry was drafting a law to have regional appeal courts serving three provinces each across Cambodia to try to ease the backlog of appellate cases.
“The draft has already been sent to the council ministers to be examined,” he said, adding he could not predict when the draft law would be finalised.
Having the nation’s only appeal court situated in Phnom Penh also puts appellants from faraway provinces at a huge disadvantage, rights groups said yesterday.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights trial monitor Monika Mang said there were massive problems in the system of transporting people to appeals hearings in Phnom Penh.
“They spend lots of money on transportation to come from the province, and not just the one time. There will be summonses, the hearing, a verdict,” she said, adding that appellants often had to foot the bill for this transport themselves.
This is one of the key factors to why up to 69 per cent of cases at the Appeal Court are heard in absentia, groups have said.
Rights group Licadho has suggested the chronic lack of resources in prisons, including the vehicles, petrol and manpower necessary to bring detainees to their appeal hearings, directly contributes to this high rate.
The in-country Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights pointed out at a recent criminal procedure workshop that a number of prisoners who were acquitted at first instance are still in prison waiting for prosecutor appeals to be decided.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was away from his office and could not confirm how close the draft law for regional appeal courts was to being passed.