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Official Says Information Access Could Help People Understand the Courts

Children of women who were arrested in clashes with police during forced evictions at Boeung Kak lake, wear portraits of their mothers around their foreheads as they pray at a protest in front of the Ministry of Justice in the capital of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodia’s court system is not well trusted by most citizens, with most decisions of the court benefiting the rich and powerful.

An official at the Ministry of Justice says he hopes a new law on information access will help improve the country’s attitude toward its judiciary, which is widely seen as politically biased and corrupt.

The new law is meant to open up access to information across government agencies, and Chin Malin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, says that could help people understand the judicial process.

“This law will help a lot,” he said. “In the case of judicial sector, it helps them understand more about the legal landscape, the legal implementation process, as well as the judicial process. Once they understand well, they can contribute to strengthening the judicial sector, rather that getting all confused with a different interpretation, which leads to their having anger at the judicial sector. The negative reaction from the public is due to the public’s lack of information.”

Access to information will allow people to know when a trial is taking place and follow other legal procedures more easily, while mitigating the effects of “false information,” he said. “The judicial sector will provide better services, while the people will have a clearer understanding and better cooperation.”

Cambodia’s court system is not well trusted by most citizens, with most decisions of the court benefiting the rich and powerful, and it is unclear how more information will help that.

“It seems that the law is not that related to the courts,” said Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal NGO. “The courts themselves, from the bottom to the top, must take up their own actions, in terms of reform. We can’t expect much from this law to change things.”

On the other hand, each court could, starting now, appoint a spokesman to keep the public informed on decisions and to respond to public criticism of irregularities, Sok Sam Oeun said.

The information law could also help people find documents from government institutions, which currently have a poor record of transparency.

Neb Sinthay, director of the Advocacy and Policy Institute, who took part in helping draft the new law, said the judicial sector has not been discussed directly yet. “The law is not written in a thorough way yet,” he said. “It is still a draft. The question is: how do we include other sectors, including the judicial sector?”