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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Constitutional Council next step

Constitutional Council next step

ONE of the first tasks of the newly formed Supreme Council of Magistry - criticized for the Minister of Justice's involvement with it -will be to establish a Constitutional Council to ensure Cambodia's constitution is adhered to.

The Supreme Council of Magistracy law, one of the most controversial ever considered by the National Assembly, was passed overwhelmingly by MPs on Dec 22.

After three mornings of heated debate over the law, opposition to it almost entirely withered away by the time the vote on it was taken. It was passed by 92-3 votes, with even previous critics like former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy voting for it.

The Post reported in its Dec 2-15 issue that the law, strongly criticized by human rights workers and a small band of MPs, was seen by some as part of a concerted effort by the Cambodian People's Party to ensure control off the judiciary.

Opponents criticized the inclusion of the Minister of Justice, CPP member Chem Snguon, on the Supreme Council of Magistry in the original draft law as being unconstitutional.

Chem Snguon acknowledged that was so - the constitution bars Ministers from holding other public functions - and proposed putting a representative of himself on the council instead.

The draft law was amended in line with that, and passed in that form by the National Assembly.

Critics, however, remain concerned that having a ministerial representative sitting on the council rather than the Minister himself will do little to prevent him from having potential control over it.

The council - which will oversee the hiring and firing of judges - will be headed by King Sihanouk and include seven judges and prosecutors appointed to their jobs by the minister.

The passing of the law opens the way for the establishment of a Constitutional Council of Cambodia, which will vet pieces of legislation to ensure they are not unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Council will consist of three members appointed by the Supreme Council of Magistry, and a further three by the King and three by the National Assembly.

A human rights worker, who would not be named, said the Minister's potential control over the magistry council could allow him to influence the membership of the Constitutional Council.

"This council was supposed to be a judicial appointment but now it will effectively be a government one," he said.

He was disappointed that more MPs, particularly from the Funcinpec party, had not decided to fight the magistracy law but said: "People obviously thought it was more convenient for them to vote for it."

During a break during the first morning of debate on the draft law, Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh faced questions from several dissenting party members.

Funcinpec members crowded round him in the National Assembly grounds as he urged that the draft be voted in favor of.

He said it was reasonable for the minister to have a representative on the council, as it was an administrative, not judicial, body.

The setting up of the council would enable the vital Constitutional Council to be formed, he said.

Later, inside the National Assembly, a small group of MPs led by BLDP member Kem Sokha continued to argue against the law.

Among those who defended it were Funcinpec MP You Hokry, the Minister of Interior, who argued the Minister of Justice should be allowed to sit on the Supreme Council of Magistry.

He said the Minister should have the "power to control" because he would be held responsible for any shortcomings in the judiciary's performance.

Chem Snguon, after the law was passed with his amendment, vowed to do all he could to make the nation and Parliamentarians satisfied with the judiciary system.

Prince Ranariddh called the adoption of the bill "successful and highly meaningful".

The government was continuing its efforts to reduce any political differences between the coalition government's members, he said, and the National Assembly's debate "showed our maturity in appropriately resolving problems facing our country."



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