The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will soon begin overhauling record-keeping in five provincial courts, a project that could cut down excessive pretrial detention periods faced by defendants.
Set to begin in February, the project aims to digitise the courts’ hard-copy case-management systems using a database program installed in 2011 at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the only court currently using electronic records.
OHCHR Cambodia spokeswoman Wan-Hea Lee yesterday said discussions were being held with the Ministry of Justice to select the locations, all to be courts of first instance, and the project will lay the groundwork for a national case database.
Cambodia-based Australian justice consultant Ron Dunne called it a “critical” replacement of a “prehistoric system”.
“Everything at the moment is down on paper or carbon, and a lot of data in the criminal justice system is either lost or misplaced,” said Dunne, formerly director of the International Justice Mission in Cambodia.
The new system – developed by the East-West Management Institute with USAID funding – will allow courts to easily look up cases, scan documents and register verdicts.
“It’s not that cases go missing, it’s the time it takes from being arrested to getting them to the court; they are spending at least six months in pre-trial detention whether they’re guilty, innocent or otherwise,” Dunne added.
“If the system was automated, that timeline could be reduced.”
According to estimates by Licadho last year, 60 per cent of Cambodia’s prison population is made up of people held in pre-trial detention, with the widespread use of the measure leading to overcrowding.
International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) Cambodia program officer Charlène Buisson said the judicial system’s lack of coordination could be devastating.
“We’ve handled terrible cases where accused were kept in pre-trial detention just because the final verdict was not sent from the Appeal Court to the provincial court,” she said, adding that lack of space at provincial courts meant old case files were sometimes thrown out, while fires or floods could destroy years of records.
She said the database installed in Phnom Penh had been an improvement but was still inefficient, because many staff, mainly clerks, have not been trained to use the system.
“Training is fundamental,” she said.