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Judicial independence, phone habits among issues plaguing courts

Judicial independence, phone habits among issues plaguing courts

Excessive pre-trial detention, low levels of legal representation for those charged and judges persistently taking personal telephone calls during hearings are just a few of the worrying issues that continue to plague courts of first instance in Cambodia, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights said in a report released yesterday.

The report is part of a biannual series investigating fair trial rights in Cambodia and includes data from 585 trials involving 1,029 accused, the report states.

“There have been some significant changes since we started monitoring in 2009,” CCHR senior trial manager Monika Mang said yesterday.“

But there are still issues, and all of the issues impact upon the fair trial rights of the accused.

“One of the main problems highlighted in the report is perceptions of the independence of judges. We are still seeing that the prosecutor or other lawyers will enter the judge’s deliberation room during deliberations, and we also see that judges are still answering their mobile phones during the hearings.”

But despite the systemic inadequacies and failures of the system, there are ongoing improvements, Monika Mang said.

“We have seen a great increase in defence representation,” she said.

“We have now seen an improvement from 97 per cent legal representation for those charged with felonies to a 100 per cent representation.

“However, what we have seen is while there may appear to be 100 per cent representation, often it is four or five accused who are being represented by only one lawyer.”

One of the key recommendations of the report is for the Royal Government to develop a legal aid policy for people living in poverty to have access to legal representation for free.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that even under such a system, the question of independence would remain.

“How would the villagers in a land dispute against a big powerful politician feel if they were being represented by a government lawyer – they would not trust the lawyer,” Sok Sam Oeun said.

“Legal representation must be truly independent, and it is not enough for a lawyer to just turn up and stand inside a courtroom for an hour or so, that is only one part of representation.”

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