Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Int’l bar group rips Kingdom’s courts

Int’l bar group rips Kingdom’s courts

A panel of international legal experts from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute presents their findings during a forum in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
A panel of international legal experts from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute presents their findings during a forum in Phnom Penh yesterday morning. Hong Menea

Int’l bar group rips Kingdom’s courts

A delegation of international legal experts from the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Human Rights Institute has found that Cambodia’s judiciary is ridden with endemic corruption, bribery and political influence, and has recommended the IBA reconsider the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s membership in the international body.

Released yesterday, the study Justice versus Corruption: Challenges to the Independence of the Judiciary in Cambodia paints a bleak picture, describing what lies behind the public’s “toxic” lack of trust in the Kingdom’s legal system.

Based on a weeklong research visit in April and interviews conducted with Cambodian lawyers, judges, NGOs and others, it found Cambodia’s judiciary, at all levels, is riddled with corruption, cases are overwhelmingly decided based on bribes or political interests, and three laws passed last year to regulate the sector have cemented the executive’s control over the courts.

Among its recommendations, which include fundamental reform to reduce the Ministry of Justice’s power over the courts, the report says the IBA should re-examine the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s (BAKC) IBA membership.

It concluded that BAKC plays an “unconstructive, frequently obstructionist and biased” role in the development of Cambodia’s legal profession and also noted reports that applicants to the bar were made to pay tens of thousands of dollars in bribes for admittance.

Dr Philip Tahmindjis, the IBA Human Rights Institute’s director, among those who visited in April, said the level of judicial corruption in Cambodia was staggering.

“We have seen a lot of corruption in other countries, but nothing on the endemic level that appears to be going on here,” Tahmindjis said.

The report, said Mark Wassouf, British barrister and IBA researcher, was initially targeted at assessing three laws introduced by the government last year, covering the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, the status of judges and prosecutors, and the organisation of the courts, but also addressed the vast challenges confronting the courts.

The laws themselves, he said, had legitimised the executive’s already entrenched political control over the courts, with the “overarching” concern being the justice minster’s “problematic”, “pervasive” and “prominent” role in appointing, promoting, disciplining and removing judges.

According to the report, the Supreme Council of Magistracy’s nominal head, King Norodom Sihamoni, rarely chairs the body – which has the power to appoint, promote, discipline and remove judges – leaving most meetings in the hands of the minister of justice.

Researchers were also told judges aligned to the CPP were much more likely to advance in their careers, while most serving judges belonged to the ruling party.

The team also repeatedly heard BAKC was “highly politicised”, seen as aligned to the CPP, and neglected to defend its members associated with the opposition.

The study also noted the “troubling” accusations that both lawyers and judges had to pay significant sums to enter the profession.

According to the report’s sources, bribes to enter the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions range from $30,000 to $50,000.

There were also some suggestions, the authors noted, that it cost $20,000 to enter the bar as a trainee and $30,000 for those who had served as a judge for five years.

Further, the supply of new judges and lawyers was kept “artificially low” despite chronic staff shortages, with about 50 to 60 new lawyers and the same amount of new judges permitted each year, the report stated.

Yesterday, current BAKC president Bun Honn declined to comment, saying he had yet to see the report, which notes that BAKC had denied the claims.

As for day-to-day court proceedings, some 90 per cent of cases involve bribes in one form or another, a group of legal professionals told the delegation, both for swaying verdicts and for procedural services such as paying clerks to follow up on cases.

Anecdotal evidence, the report says, suggests judges “routinely fail” to observe basic standards of professional and ethical conduct: from answering phones during trials, to claims that judges are routinely “instructed” by members of the executive to deliver certain verdicts.

“We tried to find the names of judges who were independent minded and who don’t accept bribes,” said Wassouf.

“We got one anecdote from one very admirable lawyer who said that he had dealt with a judge who he knew hadn’t accepted a bribe and he thought the judge had ruled on the merits of his case.

“That was one lawyer, and he said it had happened to him once.”

He said the team also found cases of clerks and bailiffs usurping the role of judges, by exacting bribes from defendants and writing the judgment themselves.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin yesterday denied the ministry interfered in the judiciary, saying the authors’ research was narrow.

He said the sector had “some problems” but, overall, the judiciary was not in a bad condition and progress was being made.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • Nestle’s debut may spur dairy market

    Leading confectionery manufacturer Nestle plans to invest in Cambodia by setting up an operation in the near future, a move majorly hailed by local dairy farmers as a means of boosting the fresh milk market in the Kingdom. During a visit by a delegation led

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement