Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday renewed his appeal for the expedition of legal proceedings to reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
Speaking to more than 1,700 graduate students from the Institute of New Khmer Generation, Hun Sen said that among the 31,400 inmates in Cambodia’s prisons, only one-third have been convicted.
“To address the problem, the courts at all levels and the minister of justice must speed up the process. Otherwise, it means they have been wrongly placed in detention. In previous years, the problem arose due to a lack of places for court hearings. Then I let them rent many places to hold hearings to address the shortage."
“So why are prisons still overcrowded? The [government’s] Human Rights Committee head Keo Remy and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as [my] lawyers, visited prisons and found out that the number of cases that have not been tried is too high. There are too many cases, but I’d give priority to poor women,” he said.
The prime minister has recently established a volunteer legal aid team to defend poor women who cannot afford to pay for representation.
Working under his supervision, the lawyers would not receive any salary from the government but would receive expenses when assigned to help women in rural areas.
Headed by the government’s chief lawyer Ky Tech, the group is comprised of more than 60 lawyers, with two based in each province and six in the capital.
Prior to the establishment of the voluntary legal aid team, which has so far secured a budget of $1.5 million, the government helped poor women through the Bar Association of Cambodia and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
“Sometimes women are incarcerated with children under their care in prisons. Sometimes, they get pregnant in prisons,” he said.
Royal pardon requests
For female inmates who have already been convicted, Hun Sen suggested a separate list be prepared for royal pardon requests prior to the main national holidays such as the Water Festival.
Be Tea Leng, the deputy director-general of the General Department of Prisons, told The Post on Monday that the number of prisoners currently totals 31,400, of which 2,440 are women.
Of the total, 7,767 have been placed in pre-trial detention, 3,643 have been charged, 10,890 have been tried and 9,137 have received final verdicts from the highest court.
Chin Malin, Ministry of Justice spokesman, on Monday said his ministry had been cooperating with the courts in expediting legal proceedings.
Following Hun Sen’s latest appeal, he said the ministry would hold meetings with judges and prosecutors nationwide this week to discuss speeding up trials and delivering verdicts.
For female culprits involved in criminal offences who have not received verdicts, the ministry will review their cases and find ways to release them on bail in accordance with legal procedures.
“The lateness in implementing legal procedures that lead to many getting locked up in prisons is due in part to an increasing number of inmates involved in drugs crimes. Two-thirds are [detained] in drug cases following the authorities’ recent large-scale anti-drug campaigns,” Malin said.
Malin continued that the second factor contributing to prison overcrowding is a shortage of judicial resources.
He said there is currently only one Appeal Court in the country, while the number of prosecutors is still limited.
Although women are given priority, Malin emphasised that the courts would still need to thoroughly review each case to avert the incorrect release of inmates.