Despite controversy surrrounding Judge You Bun Leng's appointment at the Court of Appeals, he remains focused in his ECCC office.
Dressed entirely in beige, his hair perfectly coiffed and his hands
neatly manicured, Judge You Bun Leng does not look like a man at the centre of a
maelstrom of controversy. The co-investigating judge at the Extraordinary Chambers
in the Courts of Cambodia wears gold-rimmed glasses which he periodically removes
to rub the bridge of his nose pensively. His appointment as President of the Court
of Appeals by Royal Decree on August 9 has enraged the United Nations and attracted
widespread condemnation because of fears about what it will mean for the ECCC. But
Bun Leng is calm and philosophical. "It is normal to be criticized even if one
is doing perfect work," he said. "What is important is my self belief and
commitment to making both institutions function smoothly."
Bun Leng worked his way up from staff in the Ministry of Justice's Personnel office
in 1981, to head one of the most important courts in the Kingdom in 2007. Unable
to complete high school as a result of the Khmer Rouge regime, Bun Leng made up for
it during the 1980s. He has bachelors and masters degrees in law, and many legal
certificates from foreign universities. He devotes his spare time to teaching so
he can "pass on my legal knowledge and help create better lawyers for the future."
Appointed a judge at the Court of Appeals after it was first established in 1993,
Bun Leng spoke to the Post's Cat Barton and Vong Sokheng on August 3 about the development
of Cambodia's judicial system, the importance of court reform, and the ECCC
Do you feel like you have watched the evolution of Cambodia's legal system?
After 1979, our country's human resources were destroyed but we wanted to create
a real court system. We asked ourselves where are the human resources? Most of the
qualified jurists had been killed during the Khmer Rouge period.
The Ministry of Justice set about finding all the surviving judges and court clerks.
We gathered all the court clerks and judges - there were only four or five judges
left and about ten court clerks who survived.
This was not a sufficient number of people so the Ministry of Justice and the government
had to think what to do to make our system work. We tried to find surviving law students,
who had been in their second or third year when the Khmer Rouge came to power, as
they could become a judge or a prosecutor. After we found and selected a number of
candidates from this pool and began training them, but we only could give three to
six months of training, and then they had to go and work in courts across Cambodia.
While they were working we would periodically call them back in for training and
the Ministry of Justice also sent trainers out to work with them and train them at
their courts, but it was a very difficult time for us at the beginning.
What are the biggest problems with the legal system?
When we established the courts we asked ourselves what else we needed: Laws. We are
a civil law system and we need laws. I was motivated to participate in a number of
working groups to draft new laws. I have participated in drafting key texts, for
example the civil and criminal codes and they have been adopted by the National Assembly.
Now, it is law enforcement that is the problem. Training is very important to this;
we need to enable judges to apply the laws. For example, the new civil and procedural
code is very different from the last one - now it is international standard.
Now we have the human resources, the laws, and so it is very important to promote
law enforcement to make sure these laws are enforced correctly. It is key to get
judges - the law enforcers - to understand the law completely. Training can help
to get them to achieve this.
What will your new position as President of the Appeals Court enable you to contribute
to judicial reform?
Before I had no opportunity to make my contribution. Now, I would like to say to
the leaders of the Cambodian judiciary: thank you very much for nominating me. When
one is nominated as president of the Appeals Court one has the opportunity to reform.
For example, the judicial administration in the courts is very important - case file
management, document storage.
When we have good judicial administration and management of a court we could know
how many cases in court - how many of one type, how many of another, which type of
case is increasing, which type is decreasing. When we have this information, when
we control and organise this information then we can better analyse the situation.
Why is this offence increasing? We can look at the situation and amend laws in response
to the social situation, in response to reality. Additionally, the Appeals Court
is one of the highest courts in Cambodia. During this time now it is a very important
institution as new laws are adopted. The decisions of the Appeals Courts are very
important - it could be a model for the country. But I have not yet had enough time
to conduct this as I can't yet totally leave the ECCC.
Can you work at the ECCC and the Appeals Court simultaneously?
My work at the ECCC is very crucial and we cannot allow the functioning of the ECCC
to be impaired in any way. However, you also must recognise the importance of reforming
the national judicial system - this is the long term strategy. So I am doing my best:
I will make my best efforts to manage my time and keep the functioning of both institutions
How to divide the work? I'm thinking about it. The judicial administration at the
Appeals Court must be done and I always think of it as well. I have ideas, I have
seen in other countries what they have done, but I also think we cannot just follow
this totally. Sometimes it is difficult, for example we have many financial constraints.
On the other hand I have to take into consideration the lessons one can learn from
the lower courts experience, some of them have good management so I could study them
and take the best of their experience too. It is important to take into consideration
experience from other countries, the ECCC, the provincial courts and the Supreme
Court - we must gather all of this experience together and find a way to move forward.
Which do you think will provide a better "model court" to aid judicial
reform - the Appeals Court or the ECCC?
The functioning of the ECCC and what it achieves is a model, but this will not be
a model for all courts. The ECCC could achieve good things; it could be a good model
regarding case management a model in terms of respect of the rights of parties in
The ECCC could produce a model especially regarding the reasoning and decision making
process. But you can see that the procedure here is not 100 percent the same as at
normal courts. And at the ECCC we are judging only very big cases. But the result
of the ECCC on the trial of the leaders will be historic for Cambodia.
I think that if one day there is someone to replace me it will not be a problem as
we have enough material. So far, I have a lot of experience from the ECCC and I could
use this at an ordinary court.
I also work for the Appeals Court so that is why I say there is not one court that
is more important. But I can say that the Appeals Court is a national court and reforming
it is the long term way of moving forward for our country.
As a national judge, I have to think of what is best for my nation, not just a part
of my nation. But when people say progress at the ECCC is blocked, this is a shame,
but I believe it is not just a shame for one side, it is a shame for everyone, especially
for the government.