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Judicial assistants take flak

A NEW sub-decree appointing assistants to the country’s top judicial body has been criticised by opposition members and civil society groups who say it represents another instance of “interference” in the judicial system.

The sub-decree, issued on September 23, orders the appointment of 11 officials as assistants to the disciplinary panel of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), the body constitutionally charged with reviewing the Kingdom’s court system.

Suy Mongleang, secretary general of the General Secretariat for Legal and Judicial Reform in the Council of Ministers, said the new appointees would help fill a shortfall of staff on the panel.

“The president of the disciplinary panel asked us to help because [it] does not have human resources and material,” he said. According to the sub-decree, the new appointees will be under the authority of the president and prosecutor general of the Supreme Court.

However, government critics said that in appointing members of the Cambodian People’s Party in line with the new subdecree, the government was breaching the country’s constitutional separation of powers.

“If there is any interference into the judiciary, it is an abuse of democratic principles,” said Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann.

“If we want the judiciary system to be independent, we should not allow party members to have the position of judges or to be the members of judicial bodies.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said there was no problem if the government was creating the body to aid in the investigations of the panel, but that any direct involvement in disciplinary decisions would be illegal.

Others said the new body – whatever its merits – should have been created through the legislature rather than by subdecree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “If we want to reform the court system, we should have a law from the [National] Assembly,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “It is not a decision for the prime minister.”

Suy Mongleang rejected the criticisms, saying the new body would be unable to independently punish judges.

“We are just helping the courts’ administration, relating to material and human resources. In countries all over the world, the government helps to do this,” he said.

The criticisms follow similar concerns about a 26-member panel formed by Hun Sen earlier this month, with a mandate to weed out “irregularities” in criminal cases that come before the country’s courts.

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