A working group established to streamline court procedures, with the aim of resolving prison overcrowding, last week began sending cases to municipal and provincial courts throughout the country, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Wednesday.
Malin’s statement followed the Ministry of Interior’s November 27 order to create a working group to tackle the problem.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on December 3 that the delay in trial procedures significantly increased the number of detainees, which affected the wellbeing of prisoners and hindered the provision of necessary services.
Malin, who is a member of the group, said: “The working group has reached another step [and], with regard to a push to get cases to court, the group has verified the cases in all cities and provinces with data from prisons to see how many cases were left and which cases had reached which step.
“The working group has sent all the cases to all municipal and provincial courts in order to speed up procedures in accordance with the law."
“If the cases can be sped up and finished as soon as possible, it can allow some accused to have their charges dropped and they can have freedom."
“Those who are found guilty will be sentenced. Those who have served their term or, based on the principle of humanity, have changed their attitude, can have an opportunity to receive a royal pardon or have their term reduced,” he said.
Malin said the working group will work hard to set up a legal framework and policies in order to resolve the issue of prison overcrowding – such as the construction of additional prisons, handing out community service sentences, setting up appeal courts in the provinces and the modernisation of court administration.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin said on Wednesday that the court received a letter from the Ministry of Justice on January 4 requesting help to push trial chambers at all levels to speed up trials and verdicts.
“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has always made efforts to handle cases in accordance with legal procedures. After receiving the letter requesting intervention, [we] have made further efforts on all cases, especially taking measures to reach verdicts promptly and verifying data on detainees to implement [the demands of] the letter in a highly effective manner,” he said.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the spokesman and senior investigating officer for rights group Adhoc, welcomed the action, saying delays in trial proceedings is a leading cause of prison overcrowding.
“I hope this working group will work properly and independently to help facilitate the process of going to trial and the handing down of verdicts as soon as possible without discrimination."
“We don’t fully understand the reasons for the delays in the handling of cases, but it could involve many factors including lack of human resources and carelessness,” he said.
In early December, human rights group Licadho issued a report saying the number of prison inmates had reached an unprecedented high level, leading to overcrowding and widespread corruption.
It said this affected inmates and had consequences for prison officers and society as a whole.
Licadho has proposed a procedure for bail for non-violent crimes to benefit the criminal judicial system and encourage giving priority to serious cases and reduce the excessive workload of court institutions.