The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) on Monday urged relevant authorities and institutions to take greater measures to guarantee defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
The appeal came as CCHR released an annual report detailing its key findings based on year-long monitoring of the Appeal Court from November 2017 to October 31 last year.
In its report, CCHR said the right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare one’s defence, the right to public judgement, and the right not to be compelled to confess guilt were largely respected.
It said the Appeal Court had also upheld the protection against double jeopardy and non-retroactivity.
However, CCHR said the right to a public trial, the right to be briefed on the nature and cause of the charge, the right to have legal representation in misdemeanour cases, and the right to be presumed innocent (until proven otherwise) had not been fully respected or given due attention.
CCHR said its findings were based on data analysed through its monitoring of 213 randomly selected criminal cases at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh.
Citing reasons for its assumption that the right to a public hearing had not been fully respected, CCHR said none of the trials it had monitored had a notice posted on the public board outside the courtroom, which in turn prevented people from being informed of the hearing.
Furthermore, it said the percentage of cases where the defendants were informed of the nature and cause of the charge decreased from 86 per cent in 2016-2017 to 69 per cent last year.
About 25 per cent of defendants in misdemeanour cases (not involving minors) were not represented by a lawyer. The report said such practises were not in line with international human rights laws.
Where the presumption of innocence is concerned, the report said 26 per cent of defendants appeared in the same prison uniform as convicts.
Respect for the right to a reasoned judgement remained problematic, as the judge had failed to cite in detail legal provisions and evidence upon which they had relied to reach their verdicts.
Instead, they had only stated the Court of First Instance’s judgement was upheld or overturned without explaining why, the reported said.
CCHR executive director Chak Sopheap called on the relevant authorities to take more measures to guarantee the right to a fair trial more effectively.
“We urge the authorities to promptly take all appropriate steps to ensure that fair trial rights, and particularly the presumption of innocence, the right to understand the nature and cause of the charges, the rights to a reasoned judgement, and the protection of juvenile’s privacy are vigorously protected,” he said.
Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith said while he had not seen the report, he was of the view that all fundamental rights to a fair trial at the Court of Appeal had been respected fully in line with legal principles and procedures.
“I don’t know what methods and procedures the organisation [CCHR] had applied. I’ll check the report once I receive it before reporting to the head of [the Court of Appeal],” he said.
Cambodia Human Rights Committee spokesman Chin Malin declined to comment.