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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A calm judge in the eye of a small storm

A calm judge in the eye of a small storm


Cat Barton

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

going well.

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 proceedings.

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.



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