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UN’s Smith praises Kingdom’s legal assistance achievements

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UN human rights monitor for Cambodia Rhona Smith expressed her appreciation for the Kingdom’s achievements regarding legal assistance during a meeting with Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Thursday. Heng Chivoan

UN’s Smith praises Kingdom’s legal assistance achievements

At a meeting with Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Thursday, UN human rights monitor for Cambodia Rhona Smith expressed her appreciation for the Kingdom’s achievements regarding legal assistance, said ministry spokesman Chin Malin.

Their discussions were held to assess what had been achieved since the previous meeting in November last year.

Malin said Smith’s recommendations had focused on three areas – legal assistance, including the provision of lawyers for poor people, transparency and quality of court services, and pre-trial detention and prison overcrowding.

The Ministry of Justice and the Bar Association had set up a team of legal aid lawyers for poor people at municipal and provincial courts, Malin said, and 66 district justice service centres had been created, employing nearly 300 officers.

Regarding transparency, Malin said service fees were now posted at courts and published on each court’s Facebook page.

Furthermore, service quality had been improved through digitisation of court administration work.

Prison overcrowding has been harder to tackle, and Smith noted that she had seen little improvement.

The ministry acknowledged it needed more time and Malin said working groups have been created to resolve the issue, with the long-term target being to create regional appeal courts to ease the pile-up of cases.

Two regional appeal courts were being constructed this year, Malin said – one in Tbong Khmum province and another in Battambang province.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
UN human rights monitor for Cambodia Rhona Smith expressed her appreciation for the Kingdom’s achievements regarding legal assistance during a meeting with Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Thursday. Heng Chivoan

After the meeting, Smith told reporters that Vong Vathana had updated her on the great deal of work that had been achieved since last year’s meeting but emphasised that Cambodia had a responsibility to meet its human rights obligations as ratified in international law.

“We also discussed matters related to pre-trial detention, Cambodia’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), and particularly SDG16 – peace, justice and strong institutions.”

Rhona Smith has been in the Kingdom since April 29 and will leave on May 9.

Affiliated Network for Social Accountability executive director San Chey told The Post that a few years ago there were many complaints about the legal system, and the Anti-Corruption Unit had acknowledged problems such as overcharging.

“The court represents the judicial system of a country. Even the provision of public documents is a kind of court service, and courts should be a role model."

“When we see the word ‘justice’, it is clear that it should be unbiased and fair, so I ask the court to be a role model more than any other ministry or institution, so we can move towards being an enlightened society,” Chey said.