A royal decree, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni and dated February 20, has put in motion plans to establish three appellate courts in Tbong Khmum, Battambang and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
The courts will be in addition to the one in Phnom Penh, which is due to be called the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal. The announcement also came with a flurry of appointments and transfers to man the expansion.
The royal decree said Supreme Court Judge Mong Mony Chakrya has been appointed president of the Court of Appeal in Tbong Khmum province, while prosecutor Veng Bunthoeun was appointed its deputy president.
The royal decree said Judge Sam Bunthon had been appointed president of the Court of Appeal in Battambang province, while Judge Thou Money was appointed his deputy. Judge Pak Chan Sambo has been appointed deputy president of the Court of Appeal in Preah Sihanouk province, while the presidency remains vacant.
The King has also appointed 12 prosecutor generals, a deputy prosecutor general, and prosecutors at the three new regional appeal courts.
At the same time, 32 vice-presidents and judges and 15 prosecutors and deputy prosecutors were ordered to be transferred across the various municipal and provincial courts.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Sunday that all three regional courts will be launched on April 1. He said the appointment of more officials would be ongoing for those areas, such as the vacant president’s position in the Preah Sihanouk Court of Appeal.
“Appointments of officials are considered on the basis of merit, experience, competence, and their relevant prior roles and responsibilities.
“The decision is made by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, who discusses and studies, in particular, the appointees’ reputation and competence,” he said.
As for the appointment and transfer of judges and prosecutors from one provincial court to another, Malin said some are made due to periodic changes every four years. But some are changed as and when necessary.
Malin said that, in principle, judges are changed every four years to improve work efficiency.
“If someone stays in the same place for too long, he tends to build a strong network there and may engage in corruption and nepotism. So such moves every four years serve to curb corruption and create efficiencies by sharing experiences from one place to another.
“It’s also a change in the working environment for the officials because in the old place they might get bored and go somewhere else,” he said.
Rights group Licadho vice-president Am Sam Ath said on Sunday that the three additional regional appeal establishments had positive and negative implications.
On the positive side, he said it would help speed up the process of getting rid of congestion at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, adding that the accused must be heard as soon as possible under the law.
On the negative side, he said: “It can be negative if we increase the appeal region but the courts do not achieve independence to gain the people’s trust.
“Trust in the judiciary by the people remains sceptical. Therefore, if new courts are not independent, it does not ease the justice system much,” he claimed.
The royal decree also said the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal must hear appeals against decisions referred by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Supreme Court and court of Kandal province.
The Tbong Khmum Court of Appeal must hear appeals against decisions referred by the courts of Tbong Khmum, Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri, Mondulkiri, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.
The Battambang Court of Appeal will be responsible for Battambang, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces.
And finally, the Preah Sihanouk Court of Appeal will be responsible for Preah Sihanouk, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Speu and Koh Kong provinces.