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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Reforms still needed to SCM

Reforms still needed to SCM

Prominent civil society leaders met with the World Bank's country representative

on December 5 to present suggested reforms to the Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM),

the body whose main role is to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.

The group, representing the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), said

the nine-member SCM was politicized and ineffective, and suggested several reforms

to ensure neutrality.

These included the addition of members who were not judges, procedures to conduct

disciplinary actions against judges, and the introduction of a judicial conduct code.

In July the government drafted amendments to the Law on Organization and Functioning

of the Supreme Council of Magistracy. However Thun Saray, the president of human

rights NGO ADHOC, said that although some of the changes were positive, the amendments

were neither adequate nor sufficient.

He stressed that that reform of the council was a crucial first step towards reform

of the entire judicial system.

"This body is very important for judicial reform, because it is the supreme

body of the judiciary and its purpose is to keep its independence and integrity,"

Saray said. "Until now this body has not functioned well, so we want to strengthen

and reform it."

Saray explained that CHRAC had several concerns about the SCM.

"Our main concern is that we would like the SCM to be effective to punish magistrates

and judges who commit wrongdoing," Saray said. "Up to now the SCM is politicized

and also under the control of the judges and prosecutors who don't like to punish

their colleagues. And also there is no regulation to respond to public complaints."

Saray said one shortcoming of the government's draft amendments was that there were

no procedures or mechanisms to enforce disciplinary action against judges and prosecutors

for misconduct.

CHRAC also called for the creation of a General Secretariat that functioned independently

to conduct investigations into cases of misconduct by judges and prosecutors.

It said the secretariat currently existed but was not mentioned in the law.

Although the government's draft amendments included a provision to establish such

a body, they did not include legal provisions on how it would function.

"There is no provision within the [government's] amendments with regard to the

General Secretariat to elaborate this function," ADHOC's Saray said.

Dr Kek Galabru, another member of CHRAC, said the group had spoken to the World Bank

as it was a major donor. They would also lobby the National Assembly and the government.

"We think that the World Bank is one of the very important donors to the government

and plan to get support from all donors in regards to reform of the SCM," said

Dr Galabru.

Another civil society representative at the meeting, Dr Lao Mong Hay, said the World

Bank had responded positively to the suggestions.

"They were receptive to our initiative," he said. "Firstly they were

positive to our presentation and also our request to have a meeting with other stakeholders

on the issue."

The SCM is chaired by King Norodom Sihanouk. Other members include the Minister of

Justice and seven judges and prosecutors. The government said that as yet, no date

had been scheduled for the amendments to be debated in the National Assembly.

Parliament's legislation commission said it was considering two drafts, one from

the government and one from members of parliament.

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