Regional courts of appeal will be created to address the issue of provincial prisoners not being transported to their hearings, a Ministry of Justice official told the Post this week, but it is not yet known how they will be funded.
Undersecretary of State Ith Rady said on Monday that the government will establish a number of appeal courts in provincial areas, but would not say when or where.
“The more appeal courts we have, the more opportunity we have to transport prisoners to their hearings,” he said.
The Council of Ministers was discussing the issue as part of wider draft legislation aimed at improving the court system, Ith Rady said.
“Within this law, we plan to create appeal courts in some areas,” he said, adding that he did not know when this legislation would be sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen for approval.
The announcement follows a damning report released last week by Licadho that states as many as 800 detainees in provincial prisons are at risk of not receiving a fair appeal trial because the system lacks the transport, petrol and staff to take them to the only court of appeal, located in Phnom Penh.
Licadho prison project consultant Jeff Vize welcomed this “first step” towards delivering justice to provincial detainees.
“A lot of work remains, but it is encouraging to see [the government] has acknowledged the problem,” he said on Monday.
Vize said questions about the time it would take to establish regional appeal courts could be best answered by the government, but said it would probably take “a few years in the best-case scenario”.
“Not only does the legislation need to pass, but funding needs to materialise, construction needs to take place and judges need to be assigned. It’s a process, but at this point, we’re glad to see progress.”
The government would also need to consider mobile appeal courts and commit to ensure that provincial prisoners could be transported to Phnom Penh for hearings, Vize said.
“[This] issue would still loom to some extent. More courts would mean less transport costs, but not necessarily zero transport costs.”