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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Legal body to force out elder judges, prosecutors

Legal body to force out elder judges, prosecutors

But some say their absence could strain the court system.

ATOTAL of 27 senior judges, prosecutors and provincial court chiefs are set to retire following a meeting Wednesday of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), which has enacted a little-used law mandating compulsory retirement at age 60.

Sam Pracheameanith, Cabinet chief in the Ministry of Justice and assistant secretary general of the SCM, said Wednesday that the retirements would be made official once a royal decree was issued by King Norodom Sihamoni, who chairs the council.

"Retirement is a part of [the government's] judicial reform programme, which aims at improving the judicial services in the Kingdom. It will not affect the current work of the courts," he said.

The Kingdom's 1999 Co-Statute on Civil Servants lists 60 as the mandatory retirement age for all government employees and civil servants, but the law has never been fully implemented for judicial officials.

Sam Pracheameanith said that the nine-member SCM, which includes prosecutors and judges from the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and Phnom Penh Municipal Court, has also approved 63 graduate judges to undertake internships under the auspices of the SCM.

The SCM, as the Kingdom's chief judicial body, has the power to appoint, replace or disqualify any judge or prosecutor on the grounds of conflict of interest or incapacity.

The forced retirements announced Wednesday have drawn some criticism from legal and civil society observers.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), said the judges should not have been forced to retire, since the government still claims it lacks the human resources to fully staff the court system.

"My point of view is that the old judges and prosecutors who had a lot of experience would have played a fairer role in bringing justice to society than the young graduate students," he said.

"I think that the government should have allowed the judges and prosecutors to continue their work if they do not want to retire, so that they can work with the young [judges]."

He said that in countries such as Thailand, judges and prosecutors who pass the age of retirement are given dispensations to be able to continue their work.

Hanrot Raken, a retired member of the SCM, reiterated concerns Wednesday that the forced retirement of judges and prosecutors could affect the work of the court system.

"I think that the replacements for the retired judges and prosecutors will not have enough experience to handle their cases ... and trials will lack justice," he said.

Stretched to the limit
Chiv Keng, president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told the Post this month that each judge was forced to handle between 600 and 700 cases per year but could only properly handle around 200.

The Appeal Court alone receives roughly 2,000 criminal and civil cases annually, he said.

Chan Saveth, a monitor at local rights NGO Adhoc, said the lack of human resources in the courts meant that individual judges had to handle at least 10 criminal cases per day.

"We are concerned that judges forced to handle 10 cases per day will not be able to ensure that justice is done," he said.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor at the local human rights group Licadho, added that the criminal cases currently being handled by the soon-to-be-retired judges might be delayed or abandoned by the courts in the confusion of the changeover.

But Sam Pracheameanith dismissed those concerns, saying that more than 200 judges are currently being trained, and that the ministry has carefully planned the retirements, spacing the resignations of senior court officials to ensure that the workings of the judiciary are not affected.

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