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Senate Commission Examines Court System

The Senate's legislation and law commission is undertaking an examination of laws and irregularities inside Cambodia's courts, said Ouk Bunchhoeun, head of the commission.

"We just started the survey since the first semester, in Kampong Speu [provincial] court," he said. "We found some irregularities, like verdicts that must be applied to a person though the person refuses to have them applied, and the problem of over-extended provisional detention."

Cambodia's courts are widely accused of bias and corruption, something Ouk Bunchhoeun acknowledged the commission had found.

"But it seems difficult to evaluate clearly the origin of the problem," he said.

The examination will continue throughout Cambodia's 24 provinces and municipalities. The Senate commission is now examining the courts in Kandal province. Next on the block: the provinces of Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kampong Cham.

The commission is not only surveying the courts but is questioning local organizations that work with them, Ouk Bunchhoeun said.

Chan Saveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said Thursday that in reality, poor defendants saw swift action from the courts, unlike the rich or powerful.

"If the case is related to politics, the suspect is not easy to catch and the court delays action," he said. "And usually the poor say they lose justice because they have no money to pay the corrupt. Plus, we can note that the court is under the pressure of politics and powerful people."

Among other overhauls, donors have requested a reform of the judiciary.

According to a recent Center for Social Development survey, between April 1 and June 30 this year, 322 defendants failed to show in 137 trials. Of these, 6 percent were in detention but were not brought to court. The other 94 percent were not detained; they were either released or never arrested.

USAID in 2007 began hanging information boards inside court compounds to help the public understand transparently set fines for different crimes.

Ouk Bunchhoeun said the commission's work was ongoing, but at the end of it the Senate planned to write a report with recommendations that will be sent to relevant institutions like the Ministry of Justice.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana said Thursday the commission's work "will help us reform in the future."