The Trial Monitoring Project (the “Project”) was set up to monitor trials in Cambodia to assess their adherence to international and Cambodian fair trial standards and to use the findings to facilitate increased respect for fair trial rights.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia provides that Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in all relevant international instruments. This includes the right to a fair trial, more specifically defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as the right of every person accused of a crime to receive a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. In practice, the Cambodian courts are seen to be non-independent, incompetent and biased. The courts are considered to be under political control, with the executive branch dominating the legislature and the judiciary - there is no genuine separation of powers. Many judges have very limited legal education due to prolonged civil war. The court is contaminated by profound mistrust and corruption. This leads to a lack of respect for the presumption of innocence, a fundamental right of an accused person. These problems need to be resolved to improve the fairness and efficiency of trials in Cambodia. To this end, the Model Court Project was established. The Model Court Project is a United States Agency for International Development-funded Program on Rights and Justice, aimed at collaborating with the Royal Government of Cambodia to address problems in the Cambodian justice system.
The Project is implemented through the following three activities:
- Trial monitors monitor criminal trials to obtain quantitative and qualitative data by using the checklist- an instrument to measure adherence to fair trial rights
- The Project produces two reports per year in order to set out the data collected during the preceding reporting period, case-by-case examples, the relevant law governing trials in Cambodia, and practical recommendations for changes to law, policy and practice
The Project staff engages in dialogue with key judicial and other stakeholders to share ideas and raise awareness about the Project’s findings associated with fair trial rights in Cambodia
The Project has a geographical focus on the Phnom Penh Capital and Kandal Provincial Courts. The subject of the trials monitored is random in order to produce objectives data and an arbitrary sample of 2 trials. And also for this purpose, two trial monitors are assigned to Phnom Penh Capital Court and two are assigned to Kandal Provincial Court. For each trial attended, data is recorded directly on the Checklist. The information is limited to the trial process itself and therefore no additional interviews or dialogue take place, with the exception of efforts made to record verdicts that are handed down after the trial.
To date the Project has achieved the following as part of its work to assess adherence of the Cambodian courts to fair trial rights standards and principles:
- Checklist: a trial monitoring checklist sets out questions which allow trial monitors to record adherence to fair trial standards at the various stages of the trial. The questions reflect the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code 2009 and international law. This checklist enables the trial monitors to complete the checklist directly in the courtroom to ensure the collection of accurate data. You can download the checklist here.
- Checklist guidance: detailed checklist guidance was compiled to provide further information to trial monitors about the legal basis and meaning of each question in the Checklist, and how to answer each question. This guidance is vital for ensuring a comprehensive understanding of each question and serves to ensure consistency amongst trial monitors, present and future.
- Law bank: This tool outlines the national and international law underpinning each questions in the Checklist.
- Code of conduct: This document outlines the obligation of non-interference, objectivity and confidentiality to which the trial monitors are bound.
To date the Project has monitored 958 trials in Phnom Penh Capital Court and 359 trials in Kandal Provincial Court. The data collected from these trials has been recorded on The Trial Monitoring Database that will soon be made available to the public. For further information on the Trial Monitoring Database, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CCHR has released bi-annual reports on fair trial rights in Cambodia. The Reports on the Project findings have been distributed to the Royal Government of Cambodia, relevant ministries, universities and international organizations.
- Informing the courts of the project: The presidents of Phnom Penh Capital Court and Kandal Provincial Court have been informed about the project implementation since the beginning of the project period.
- Consultation prior to release of reports: The president of Kandal Provincial Court met with the project team and showed his efforts to cooperate with the project. However, the judges at the Phnom Penh Court were unable to meet with the project team initially, CCHR's relationship has slowly been developing over time.
- Conducting dialogue on the report’s findings
The target audience of the monitoring, reporting and dialogue activities of the Project is the judiciary of the courts monitored and judicial stakeholders. The intended beneficiaries of the Project are the general public through assisting them in the continued efforts to build trust and respect for the judiciary, and improving the credibility of the court process.