S OON after King Norodom Sihanouk leaves Cambodia, the nation's top judicial body
will convene for the first time since it was created nearly three years ago, according
to Minister of Justice Chem Snguon.
The King has said he will not preside over the Supreme Council of Magistracy's first
meeting, expected next month, and asked National Assembly president Chea Sim to take
"The council will convene after the King departs. As long as he is there, Chea
Sim cannot convene the council," Chem Snguon said in an Oct 20 interview, adding
that no date had been set.
Justice officials explained that, because of constitutional separation of judicial
and legislative powers, Chea Sim cannot preside over the council and the National
Assembly at the same time. Once the King leaves, Chea Sim becomes the acting head
of state and is relieved of his parliamentary duties.
Snguon, who faces a similar conflict of interest as he is an MP and is also assignd
a slot on the council, has nominated Under-secretary of State for Justice Ly Vouch
Leang, a fellow CPP member, to fill in for him.
"If there is no one else, I will do it," she said when contacted about
Some legal observers have criticized the Minister's nomination, arguing that it is
unconstitutional because Snguon could have the ability to sway the council via his
The council - responsible for disciplining, replacing and swearing in judges - has
not met since it was set up by law in 1994 because of stiff disagreement within the
coalition government over who will fill its nine positions.
First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh repeatedly called for half of the council's
seats to be given to Funcinpec to help balance what he called the CPP domination
of the courts. Officials loyal to the CPP flatly rejected the prince's proposal.
Since the prince's violent ouster in July, the disagreements appear to have come
to an end, justice officials said.
Y Dan, the Ministry of Justice's director of personnel, said the six permanent slots
on the council will be filled by Chea Sim, Ly Vouch Leang (on Chem Snguon's behalf),
and the presidents and prosecutors of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
Three provisional seats will be held by Phnom Penh Municipal Court president Um Sarith,
Supreme Court judge Riel Moun and the ministry's chief of criminal and civil affairs,
Ti Neng, according to Y Dan.
Those three seats will eventually be taken over by representatives elected by all
of the nation's judges, in line with the law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy,
although the law does not stipulate when the vote is to take place.
At the council's first meeting, the nomination of 42 new trained judges will be at
top of the agenda, Chem Snguon said, noting that the nation's 132 hard pressed judges
could use the help.
"Then there will be the nomination of judges to replace those who are retiring,
starting with those who sit on the [council] itself," he said.
The Appeals Court President and the Supreme Court prosecutor and president are all
likely to be changed, because they are due to retire or be replaced anyway, justice
Another dozen provincial and local judges beyond the retirement age of 55 are waiting
to retire as well, Snguon said.
He added that the council will later consider judicial corruption, and nominations
for the Constitutional Council, the country's supreme legal body, also never formed
because of political wrangling.
The Constitutional Council is seen by many observers as crucial to holding free and
fair elections in the event that next year's scheduled ballot is contested.