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Alternative dispute resolution no place for criminal defence

Alternative dispute resolution no place for criminal defence

While more than 80 per cent of Cambodia’s poor continue to seek justice through alternatives to the court system, rights groups are worried that serious criminal cases could be compromised without the assistance of the traditional judiciary process.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice and a collection of NGOs and civil society groups gathered for a workshop on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)– in which civil cases are settled before a local commune chief or governor –  in the Kingdom, with the government announcing 18 new “alternative justice service centres” would be peppered around 15 of Cambodia’s provinces by next year.

Pov Vibol, a government representative for the Ministry’s Access to Justice project, said during the workshop yesterday that the Ministry of Interior and Justice had instigated its ADR program this year following a trial project with UNDP, which started in 2006. He stressed that ADR plays a crucial role in enabling swathes of the community access to justice.

The traditional court system, he said, is  under-resourced, bogged down with minor cases and unaffordable for most of the population.

“There are 31 alternative justice centres in the provinces and all nine districts of the capital to solve the small problems of the people.”  

“We have solved 80 per cent of cases such as domestic violence and divorce,” he said, adding that land dispute cases, including a 20-hectare economic land concession dispute in Mondulkiri, were often dealt with through ADR.

But Moeun Tola, of Cambodia’s Community Legal Education Center, said he was worried bigger criminal cases would be heard in alternative justice centres, allowing corruption to pervade. “ADR is important and can work – the people spend less and we waste less resources in court – but it needs to be very carefully documented what can and cannot be heard there.

“It could be dangerous … if bigger issues are prevented from going through the courts, especially domestic violence and land disputes involving high ranking officials ... I worry it could be used in village or commune rape cases,” he said.

“We know some cases already where local police try to mediate rape cases, and the victim and victim’s family decide to accept conditions without appealing through the court – rape is criminal and shouldn’t be tried this way.”

Prom Sidhra, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, said in 2011, 686 of 849 civil complaints were resolved through ADR.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]
Claire Knox at [email protected]

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