In addition to the Kingdom’s judicial mechanisms, there are means to settle disputes out-of-court through mediation.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week encouraged people to settle their differences outside the courts, particularly in land disputes. He commended Kampot provincial governor Mao Thonin for resolving many such issues without the need for court action, and called on other provincial governors to follow suit.

Legal experts say this method reduces the backlog of court cases, saves time and money, and generally leades to more harmony in the community.

Ministry of Justice secretary of state Chin Malin explained that the mechanisms for out-of-court settlements were of great value to the stretched Cambodian court system, as less of its financial, technical and human resources were consumed.

Large criminal cases would continue to be heard by the courts, but smaller criminal or civil issues could be cleared up through negotiation, provided both parties were amenable.

“Out-of-court settlement saves time. It is not very complicated. The courts have many legal procedures and will keep the negotiations confidential. Most importantly, both parties will be able to find a solution that benefits both of them, meaning harmony is preserved and they can remain friends,” he said.

He added that a court decision invariably left one party feeling aggrieved, as the courts generally found in favour of just one party.

Lawyer Sok Sam Oeun said when employed correctly, out-of-court settlement mechanisms were an excellent solution.

He saw three important advantages to them. They saved time, eased the workload of the courts, and maintained a healthy relationship between rivals in a dispute.

“Some court cases are deliberately prolonged due to the techniques of some lawyers and the problem of partial court corruption. If all lawyers aimed for reconciliation, most cases would be resolved quickly. But if the cases end quickly, there are no more fees for lawyers, so some will sabotage the process,” he said.

He added that lawyers could employ two methods to find out-of-court settlements – reconciliation and negotiation.

Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeng Sen Karuna said out-of-court settlements were an excellent way for local people to seek justice and find solutions to small problems.

“There is a way to resolve disputes that does not involve the judiciary – as we have seen through the example of the Kampot provincial governor, former Pursat provincial governor Mao Thonin,” he added.

He hailed out-of-court settlements as a useful tool, but noted that he had only seen them used to settle small disputes.

Karuna said disputes between ordinary people and the powerful did not seem to be resolved as effectively. He hoped that any provincial governors who wanted to implement out-of-court settlements would comply with legal standards to provide with justice, rather than act on the initiative of the powerful.

Cambodian Reform Party (CRP) founder Ou Chanrath said finding solutions without employing the judiciary was especially helpful in land disputes, some of which had gone on for years.

“If a victim is not willing to accept the results of negotiations, then the case will have to go to court. But what the prime minister said is very true – when the court decides there is one winner and one loser,” he added.

As part of promoting out-of-court settlements, the justice ministry is establishing a mediation unit to resolve disputes. It will focus mainly on civil cases and small criminal cases, according to the ministry.