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Judicial reform pledged by PM

The Cambodian government has privately pledged that it will pass the long-awaited “three fundamental laws” aimed at reforming the judiciary during the first session of parliament in early 2014, UN rights envoy Surya Subedi said.

The laws – which focus on codifying the court’s jurisdiction, laying out guidelines for the duties and discipline of judges and prosecutors, and clarifying the role of the Supreme Council of Magistracy – have been languishing for years.

Although civil society groups have long criticised the government’s snail-like progress in adopting these laws – considered key to bolstering the independence of the Kingdom’s courts – Prime Minister Hun Sen also raised hopes in a speech yesterday that the government would follow through on such a promise.

Speaking at the Peace Palace, Hun Sen said the new government would give the justice minister full power over drafting the laws to facilitate their speedy adoption.

He added that the three laws must be passed no later than the second session of parliament.

Delivering his closing remarks at a UN Human Rights Council hearing on Cambodia yesterday, Subedi said the judiciary had been a special focus of his during missions to the Kingdom.

“I am pleased to report that during my last mission to the country, in May 2013, that I was assured by the government … that these three laws would be enacted during the first quarter of the next session of parliament,” he said.

The adoption of the laws formed part of Subedi’s key recommendations on judicial reform given to the government.

Although the government has frequently pledged it would soon adopt the laws in recent years, sources within the working group tasked with developing the laws told the Post in December that no new drafts had been disseminated since 2006.

Prominent lawyer Sok Sam Oeun said he was more confident this time that the government would actually pass the fundamental laws.

“I think so because before the election one of [Hun Sen’s] advisers also came to see me, and he asked me to give my opinion on judicial reform, because the prime minister wanted to speak about this,” he said.

Nonetheless, if the laws are rushed through without proper public consultation, they would not serve their intended purpose of protecting the independence of judges and restoring confidence in the Cambodian courts, he said.

“I am concerned [they will not do that]. We don’t just want any law – we want a good law. A useless law could be worse than no law.

“I recommend putting in the law that all judges and all prosecutors must be non-partisan and that there must be punishment for anyone who interferes with judicial work.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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