Cambodia’s Court of Appeal, which has come under fire for what are widely seen as politically motivated verdicts issued at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s one-party government, failed to provide a reasoned judgment in nearly three-fourths of cases it tried over the last two years, a rights group said Thursday.
In a report for its Fair Trial Rights Newsletter, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said its staffers were present for the verdicts of 338 cases between Nov. 1, 2016 and Aug. 31, 2018 at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal, and found that in 244 instances, or 72 percent of the time, judges only announced their decision without explaining it.
According to CCHR’s findings, the percentage of cases where no reasons were given for the judgment “has drastically increased” since last year, ranging from 61 percent between May and July of 2017 to 89 percent between May and July 2018.
“Unfortunately, in nearly all of the cases monitored by CCHR the judges failed to provide detailed reason for their judgment, instead only announcing the ruling,” CCHR said.
“It is essential that more attention is given on this issue in order to protect fair trial rights in Cambodia.”
According to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, and Cambodia’s own Code of Criminal Procedure, parties have the right to a “reasoned judgment,” meaning that a criminal judgment rendered against an individual must explain why and how the verdict has been reached, and why the person was found guilty or innocent.
To do so, the judgment must set out the facts for which the person is convicted—including dates, locations and events—by referring to evidence, and the legal framework on which the ruling is based—both in terms of the crime and liability.
CCHR said that the right to a reasoned judgment is “intrinsically linked to … the right to appeal,” noting that such details allow the parties to see how judges evaluated evidence, and reached factual and legal conclusions, so that they can identify points they would like to challenge before a higher court.
Reasoned judgments also allow upper courts to properly review and analyze the judgment of the lower court, it added.
Additionally, CCHR said, reasoned judgments promote transparency in the judicial system and are critical to the development of jurisprudence and legal certainty about the interpretation and application of the law.
The rights group noted that in March this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, called for “greater transparency in judicial decision-making,” as well as “more consistent decisions on evidence and on the application of the law,” and recommended that “plans to make public judgments and legal reasoning should be progressed” in the nation.
In order to protect the right to a reasoned judgment, CCHR called on Cambodia’s government and judiciary to require that all judges cite relevant articles of law and list the key evidence on which they rely for their ruling in their judgment, and set out detailed guidelines indicating the kind of information which must be included in a judgment and ensure that those guidelines are strictly implemented.
It also recommended that defendants be guaranteed to receive reasoned written judgments within a reasonable time, and that those judgments are made publicly available.
When asked for comment, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin told RFA’s Khmer Service he had yet to see CCHR’s report and questioned the methods used to compile it, saying it was unclear whether the group had approached the Court of Appeal to verify its findings.
“We are planning to discuss the methodology for this report with CCHR’s staff,” he said.
“If we find that the report is accurate, we will accept the findings and correct the problem.”
Chin Malin said the ministry is currently training judges to provide defendants with written judgments.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.