by the Hon. Alastair Nicholson AO, RFD, QC
This report follows on from my recent Cambodian visit in July 2015.
With the assistance of substantial donations from the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights and a generous private donor we have been able to plan two seminars to be held in Phnom Penh on 12-13 November and Siem Reap on 16-17 November 2015. This is most welcome because for an unfortunate number of circumstances we were unable to maintain the momentum generated by our 2012-13 programs through 2014 as we had planned.
My July visit was intended to plan these seminars in discussions with interested parties, including the Cambodian Ministry of Justice, senior members of the judiciary in Cambodia and UNICEF. The location of the seminars was selected by the Ministry of Justice and the participants will come from the populous Phnom Penh area in the case of the first one and the three adjoining provinces of Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Battambang in the case of the second.
It is proposed that these seminars will be repeated in different parts of the country in 2016-17, together with such other programs that may be developed, particularly if the Juvenile Justice legislation is passed, or recommendations for specialist judges are accepted.
As a result of my discussions with UNICEF Cambodia we now have an additional project for 2015, namely to support a visit by about 8 senior Cambodian visitors to Melbourne to gain further familiarity with the Victorian child justice system, which we expect to take place in October 2015.
UNICEF have also indicated willingness to become involved and support the seminars as well. We worked closely with UNICEF in our 2012 programs in Cambodia and it is pleasing that this co-operation continues.
I have given the Seminars the tentative title of “A new approach to children in the Justice System of Cambodia- International and Local Experience.” These are coming together nicely. We have arranged participation by judges from Singapore and New Zealand as well as Australian participants, including the Hon Frank Vincent AO and I hope to obtain the participation of a Victorian Children’s Court Magistrate and other Victorian experts. I am also hoping to arrange the attendance of a judge from Vietnam, which has recently decided to set up separate family/children’s courts.
During my recent Cambodian visit, I met with a Cambodian psychologist, Leang Lo, who has worked with the courts over number of years and I have requested him to participate also. We will of course have the benefit of planning and participation from our friends at Legal Aid Cambodia, a Cambodian NGO operating entirely independently of Government.
The purpose of the seminars is to further the objects discussed below in relation to the Melbourne visit and to widen the knowledge of judges and other professional of the handling of cases involving children in the justice system, whether as offenders, victims or witnesses. Their location has been chosen in consultation with the Cambodian Ministry of Justice and they will be supported by our long term partner, Legal aid Cambodia.
They are intended to be the first in a three year program covering the whole of Cambodia intended to further the interests of children in the Cambodian justice system.
We are currently negotiating a Melbourne CBD location, which will be used as a base for the exercise. This visit will be paid for entirely by UNICEF who will reimburse CRI for expenses incurred.
We will arrange transport and negotiate accommodation.
The purpose of the visit will be directed at two broad objects, the first being emphasis on the importance of passing the Juvenile Justice legislation and the second the need to set up a system whereby juvenile cases are assigned to particular specialist judges.
At present it is hoped that the Minister for Social Affairs will come together with other officials from there and the Ministry of Justice.
The visit will occupy one week with the delegates arriving Sunday and departing the following one.
I am making arrangements to meet the new President of the Children’s Court, Judge Amanda Chambers, in the near future with a view to seeking similar support from it as was given for the previous Cambodian visit. We will also need to contact other relevant faculty members from police and Victorian Departments.
It will also be necessary to involve the Family Court and the Supreme Court and if the Minister is present, some high level political presence as well.
While our funding situation has much improved, it is obvious that for the program to succeed, more immediate and long term fundraising is essential and we will be taking action in relation to this in the near future.