Minister of Justice Koeut Rith explained that current plans to implement an out-of-court dispute resolutions system are an appropriate response to the current situation of Cambodian society, and are also in accord with its traditions.

He likened the present campaign to former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s win-win policy, which eventually brought about comprehensive peace with the reintegration of the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1998.

He made the comparison while presiding over the October 23 appointment ceremony of Chat Soreaksmey as Koh Kong Provincial Court prosecutor. Soreaksmey replaces Ros Saram, who has been transferred to the same role, at Kampong Thom Provincial Court.

The minister noted that one of the priorities of the government’s Pentagonal Strategy-Phase I is judicial reform. To this end, he said the ministry has launched a campaign to accelerate the settlement of current court cases, establish out-of-court mediation mechanisms and address any irregularities in the court system.

“This campaign is based on former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s win-win policy which doused the flames of war, healed the national divide and brought national unity and comprehensive peace,” he said.

He added that the main goals of the campaign are to clear a backlog of court cases, bring dispute settlements closer to the people, and guarantee harmony in communities and national society as a whole.

The minister noted that a national authority has been established which will serve as a national-level mechanism for implementing clear legal frameworks for mediation and reconciliation. Effective agreements will be drawn up, with similar powers as court verdicts or final judgments.

This authority aims to supplement existing mechanisms and meet the needs of people who want to resolve disputes in a way that is acceptable to all parties. The authority will prepare mobile teams that will be available to mediate cases across the country.

He also advised the judges and prosecutors of Koh Kong province – along with the deputy prosecutors, court clerks, bailiffs and other officials – to refrain from prejudicial judgements, whether because of friendships, family ties, ignorance or corruption.

Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said on October 24 that the establishment of the national authority would ease the burdens of the courts by clearing the current case backlog. This is important, as judicial resources remains limited, in terms of both funding and human resources.

Malin said equitable out-of-court dispute resolutions would help harmonise communities. Courts, he explained, are obliged to rule in favour of one party, often resulting in hostility, whereas the new mechanism would find a balance.

“This mechanism is crucial, as it brings justice services closer to the local populace. The procedures will not be complex, nor time-consuming or costly, and will also keep disputes confidential. These are the major differences from the court system,” he elaborated.

Lawyer Kong Rithy Kiri supported the initiative of establishing the new authority.

“In general, the establishment of this institution can only be a good thing. Although the courts will still be the only way to handle many cases, it will help. Similar systems are in place in several other countries,” he said.

Rithy Kiri cautioned, however, that there may be some questions asked about the authority’s competence to resolve disputes. He was also concerned about the potential for corruption of the new body, noting that some members of the public believe that corruption is still present in the current judicial system.