An extension to the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh aimed to help ease recently reported chronic overcrowding in Cambodia’s prison caused by a backlog of cases was officially opened yesterday.
The improvements also include the adoption of the case database management system used at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and were jointly funded by the Australian government’s aid program AusAid and the Cambodian government.
Australian ambassador to Cambodia, Penny Richards, said at yesterday’s opening that there were “currently serious delays in hearing appeals”.
“With this new building and a new data managment system, I hope that excessive detention will be eliminated and that we will see a reduction in prison overcrowding,” she said.
Richards also said the adoption of the Khmer Rouge tribunal database management system was exactly the type best-practice transfer from the court that helped sustain the international community’s contributions to the ECCC.
But ECCC defence council, Michael Karnavas, said that though administrative reforms were a good first step, a holistic overhaul of the judiciary required more than singular measures.
“That will probably help, but having a computerised system is not going to solve the problem if people are not processing cases in a methodical way,” he said.
“So this is one step in the right direction, but let’s see how committed they are.”
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said a draft Law on Organisation and Functioning of the Court – which would establish provincial appeal courts – would be debated at the Council of Ministers next week.
A report released in April by the rights group Licadho found that at least 800 detainees in provincial courts were at risk of not receiving a fair trial because of inadequate resources to take them to the country’s lone appeal court in Phnom Penh.
Licadho consultant Jeff Vize said he hoped the improvements would have something of an impact but that there were still big issues – such as the shortage of defence lawyers in the provinces – that needed to be addressed to reduce prison crowding.