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Judicial draft laws still unseen: rights groups

Two civil society organisations are calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to publish three long-gestating draft laws on judicial reform to allow ample time for “genuine, inclusive and meaningful participation in the drafting process”.

Hun Sen said in a speech last Wednesday that the three laws – the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on the Amendment of the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors – were in the final stages of drafting, and would hopefully be implemented by mid-year.

However, the Ministry of Justice has been tight-lipped on the specifics of those laws, and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the NGO umbrella group Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said in an open letter, dated March 7 and released yesterday, that they “are seriously concerned by the opacity surrounding the draft legislations”.

Requests to view the laws were rebuffed by the Justice Ministry, as the laws were still just drafts, the letter says.

“However, it is crucial that the draft legislations are made public immediately to allow for relevant stakeholders … to give feedback and make comments,” it continues. “If only a final version of the legislation is made public, this would give no opportunity for the Ministry of Justice and the Parliament to analyse the recommendations made by the different stakeholders, and to incorporate them into the final version.”

CCHR president Ou Virak said yesterday that while it would “be extremely difficult for the rule of law to get any worse”, without outside input, the new laws might nonetheless fall short of ensuring badly needed judicial independence.

“It could be that they’re passing it, and it doesn’t make any change on the ground. I think that’s the real concern,” he said.

“All these laws need to make sure, for example, that the Supreme Council of Magistracy is completely independent from the executive [branch],” he added.

But according to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun – who said he read a leaked draft of the law on the organisation of the courts and had the law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy described to him – the new legislation might do just the opposite.

“If we look at the law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the Minister of Justice has more power than before. Why? Because another two members are from the Ministry of Justice, so it means the [ministry] has three voices, really,” he said. “That’s why I’m concerned about interference from the Ministry of Justice, which is a political body.”

Ministry official Sam Prachea Manith would only say yesterday that the “laws are related to the reform of the judicial system”, but noted that media would be given one hour’s access to a two-day meeting on the law on judges and prosecutors slated to begin on Wednesday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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