The construction of two appeal courts in Battambang and Tbong Khmum provinces will be completed by the end of this year, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Tuesday that the two regional courts in the east and west of the country would be finished ahead of schedule but more time was needed before they would be able to conduct hearings.
“What we need to do further includes the organisation of human resources, to find judges, prosecutors, court clerks and administration officials to work at these regional appeal courts. We also need to prepare legal provisions, so we need more time,” Malin said.
The government, he said, was footing the cost of the new courts.
On Tuesday, Be Tea Leng, the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, said 1,050 prisoners held in the Kingdom’s jails, including 175 women, had appeals pending at the Appeal and Supreme courts.
He said in February that there were around 31,400 prisoners incarcerated across the country.
Malin said the government was creating the regional appeal courts to reduce the backlog of cases to be heard at Phnom Penh’s Appeal Court and to provide judicial services closer to people living outside the capital.
“They will also reduce overcrowding in prisons by way of speeding up trial procedures. When the trial procedure is quicker, it leads to quicker rulings and cases going onto the next step, such as pardons [from the King] for prisoners who had been rehabilitated."
“When we have quicker procedures, it could be that some cases do not require the convicted to serve a prison term and their sentences could be suspended. There could also be some cases where the court finds a person innocent and orders him released,” he said.
Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna welcomed the establishment of the regional appeal courts and urged the government to quickly complete their construction and have them ready to hear cases.
He said only having a single appeal court in the capital to deal with cases across the country led to certain problems, including a backlog of cases leading to delays, possible violations of legal procedure and miscommunication regarding bringing the accused to their hearing in Phnom Penh.
“We want the Ministry of Justice to speed up the establishment of the appeal courts and have them operating as soon as possible so that potential abuses of the rights of the appellant can be avoided."
“We also want to see all appeal courts respond quickly to complaints. These should not be delayed or ignored,” he said.
Hun Seanghak, fair trial rights project coordinator at the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), said civil society groups also wished to see the regional appeal courts in operation.
He said the regional appeal courts would allow the appellant to be present at their hearing, which was one important element in a fair trial.
They would also reduce the time and money spent by families in getting to the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh and by the government in bringing appellants there.
He said he had also known of cases in which the appellant had not been brought to the Appeal Court, meaning the hearing had been delayed.