A long-awaited campaign to clear a backlog of legal cases across the Kingdom is likely to begin next week after Minister of Justice Koeut Rith met with the relevant ministries, prosecutors and chiefs of municipal and provincial courts over the issue.
Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin told The Post on Wednesday that the campaign aimed to ease overcrowding in prisons.
“The meetings are preparation to clear pending legal cases in courts across the Kingdom. It is a prelude to solving the prison overcrowding issue. The campaign will probably start next week,” he said.
Malin said action plans, mechanism, duration and expected outcomes will be announced before the start of the campaign.
He said the ministry had identified three priority areas to clear the backlog. First, drug-related cases will be expedited.
Second, the needs of each court will be identified and addressed to speed up drug-related trials, and third, minor drug-related trials will be handled urgently based on legal procedures and humanitarian principles.
This, he said, includes allowing suspects to get bail, suspended sentences or sentences based on mitigating circumstances following legal procedures.
Malin said in March that there were around 10,000 pending cases piled up in courts each year, mostly involving drug-related crimes.
“Most cases are stuck in Phnom Penh, so if we can solve the cases here, we can address the problem throughout Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is capable of solving about 10,000 cases a year.
“We have pooled all our human resources and worked day and night to speed up proceedings. Despite these efforts, we could only solve around 10,000 cases a year. But don’t forget that around 10,000 new cases also make their way to the court each year,” he said.
General Department of Prison spokesman Nuth Savna welcomed the move. He said the past efforts did not yield fruitful results in addressing prison overcrowding.
“In my opinion, depending on the seriousness of each case, inmates should be granted bail. This would help reduce overcrowding,” he said.
He said the court should consider a suspect’s background and seriousness of his case. Minor cases, he said, should be solved outsides of court.
Officials from municipal and provincial courts recently compiled reports of detainees and details of their crimes, which he said is a good step to reducing overcrowding in prisons.
“Trial delays have a lot of impacts. As a prison official, I cannot do anything but call on the Ministry of Justice to address the issues that prisons are facing.
“At least, the courts should speed up proceedings. Of all the detainees currently in prisons, only 50 per cent have received final verdicts. It [the ministry’s campaign] would help,” he said.
Rights group Adhoc spokesperson Soeng Sen Karuna said trial delays affect the detainees’ rights.
“We applaud the new minister’s willingness to address problems in Cambodia’s judicial system. He sees the problems, and so do civil society organisations,” he said.
He said such reforms could restore public trust in the judiciary. “Past reforms did not respond to the need of the public who want to see a judicial system that correctly applies the law and is trusted by the people,” he said.