S ENIOR Cambodian justice officials said this week that a long awaited council to
oversee the country's judicial system would soon be convened by King Norodom Sihanouk.
"The members of the Supreme Council of Magistrates will meet with King Norodom
Sihanouk on November 18 as a first step in convening this council," Justice
Minister Chem Snguon said Nov 14.
"We cannot wait until the necessary statuses are in place to take control of
the judiciary and judges, as it could take a month or a year for these laws to be
passed," Snguon said.
The establishment of the Council of Magistrates is regarded by legal experts as a
vital step in establishing an independent and powerful legal arm of the government.
The one year delay since laws were passed to form the council has hindered the formation
of a Constitutional Council which according to Nhiek Tiuolong, a senior advisor the
King, has rendered the government's operation unconstitutional.
The nine-person membership of the Magistrates Council is set down in the Constitution
and in the Magistrate's Council Law, but political jockeying for "some positions"
was still unresolved prior to the meeting with the King, according to justice officials.
First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh made a public call for more Funcinpec
representation on the council in October.
Ranariddh said two years after the formation of the coalition government there is
only CPP judges and "we (Funcinpec) should have at least one".
Legal advisors say Cambodia's 140 judges who now sit in the courts are political
appointees and until laws are adopted to change this, appointments will remain largely
a political issue.
Regardless of which party dominates the council, King Sihanouk's chairmanship is
a vital first step in the King claiming powers set down for him under the Constitution.
Legal advisors in the government said Sihanouk's move to speed up the establishment
of the council was "a strong signal from the palace" that the King will
no longer wait for important legal instruments to be put in place by the two-year