Judge and prosecutors were called to a two-day workshop to address the sector’s pervasive ethics challenges, but legal experts said change could not occur until there were concrete rules, instead of vague moral guidelines.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana said that while some members of the judiciary acted professionally, others “forget their ethics that light the path”.
The workshop, run by the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, came just a day after it was reported Prime Minister Hun Sen told provincial authorities in Banteay Menchey to disregard a ruling by the Supreme Court.
Vattana cited problems such as judges interrupting cases to answer their phone and ignoring their responsibilities by allowing clerks to issue warrants without oversight.
“These factors make justice weaker, and we are losing trust from the public,” he said.
While Vattana said judges “must not commit any inappropriate action that violates the law and our social morality”, legal expert Sok Sam Oeun called for judges’ ethics to be defined in detail.
Oeun acknowledged it was widely believed that huge bribes were paid for judgeships, but denied it was the reality.
“It’s only rumour, but all the time [it is said] there are many students who apply for the judiciary exam to be a judge, but the poor people have no hope,” he said.
He called for a “clear and detailed code of ethics” that took bad behaviour out of the realm of morals and made unethical acts punishable by law. “It is too vague . . . they should make a strengthened mechanism and a special court to discipline judges and prosecutors.”
Ith Rady, a member of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, said an “addiction” to entertainment venues and heavy drinking that saw judges oversleep and miss their scheduled court proceedings was a major issue, adding that legal professionals were seen at times fraternising with plaintiffs or defendants.
He said last year there had been 100 complaints brought against the judiciary for their decisions.
While Rady dodged questions about political pressure on the courts, saying “influence on this side or that side” was “unavoidable”, Oeun pointed to his own case record.
“I defend many political cases but never win. But 80 per cent of the private cases, I win. I cannot say anything [about political influence], but there is this kind of data,” he said.