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Ministry to undertake its own study of courts

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin is seen speaking at an event announcing a 100-day campaign for judicial reform last week in Phnom Penh. Facebook
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin is seen speaking at an event announcing a 100-day campaign for judicial reform last week in Phnom Penh. Facebook

Ministry to undertake its own study of courts

Citing bias in past independent assessments, the Ministry of Justice will conduct its own review of Cambodia’s much maligned judiciary starting in June, a project one analyst said constituted a “conflict of interest”.

According to a press release on Friday, a Justice Ministry committee will conduct an assessment of the quality and effectiveness of the Kingdom’s courts over the course of 100 days.

“The campaign is aimed at updating strategies, reforming the justice system to make it clear specific and applicable, especially in response to the current situation in Cambodia,” the press release reads, adding that the probe will be “organised and implemented scientifically”.

The investigation will examine the institutions’ management, internal policies, resources and legal procedures, as well as the needs and satisfaction of customers, accessibility and price of services and the public’s level of trust in the courts.

The judiciary has long been criticised for being subject to bribery and political influence. A report by Transparency International Cambodia revealed that the public perceives the judiciary to be the most corrupt institution in Cambodia.

Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said that TIC and other outside observers were biased and judged the government unfairly.

“It has been done many times by those with a political motivation in order to attack and criticise, but it does not help with reform,” Malin said yesterday.

“They assess the court without participation from the court,” he added.

But Ear Sophal, a Cambodian professor on world affairs at Occidental College in California, said reports by groups like TIC are accurate in their criticisms of the judiciary, and said the ministry is incapable of independently investigating itself.

“That’s like the fox guarding the henhouse . . . The reason why the courts are not independent is because of politics and if politicians conduct a survey, it’s not independent to begin with. Anyone can see that it’s self-serving, self-dealing and [a] conflict of interest,” Sophal said via email.

TIC Director Preap Kol was a bit more optimistic, saying he welcomed the “intention of the government to assess the quality of the courts”, but remained wary.

“A self-assessment led by the Ministry of Justice, if conducted objectively and transparently, could help identify fundamental problems that can help guide judicial reform efforts. However, if it is conducted with a purpose to . . . [just] improve the image of the courts, it will be a waste of time and resources,” he said.

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