Prime Minister Hun Sen has endorsed two new draft legal codes, which aim to make
judges' decisions less arbitrary in key areas of civil law. The Civil Code of Cambodia
and The Code of Civil Procedure deal with property and family matters.
Legal experts said that since they contain almost 2,000 new articles, they should
have a significant impact in improving the quality of decisions handed down by Cambodian
"[The civil codes] will definitely contribute to the rule of law and justice,"
said a legal expert from Japan, whose aid agency drafted the codes. "Judges
currently don't have many laws to base rulings on. They base them on their own consciences,
equity and customs, and sometimes that is difficult."
Nearly all of the country's chief provincial judges attended a seminar on the draft
codes in Phnom Penh on October 15-16, where they learned about the ground-breaking
new provisions. One of these, for example, provides a way of getting justice quickly
on cases involving money disputes.
Under the Demand Procedure, when a plaintiff files a complaint, the court rapidly
issues an initial ruling which is served to the defendant. If he or she does not
object, it becomes binding without the need for a court case.
The civil codes were drafted by several Japanese professors in a joint project between
the Ministry of Justice and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Hun Sen said the new laws would help strengthen democracy and respect for human rights
in the country. He recognized Japan's contribution by awarding medals to the professors.
"We build our country with two hands and the hands of our beloved friends,"
Japan's Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa said that in the latter half of the 19th century
Japan learned law practices from West. It was now in a position to help Cambodia.
"Drafting these two codes is an important pillar in judicial and legal reform
which the government of Cambodia has been pursuing," he said. The drafts, which
were written in Japanese, drew on Japanese, German and French laws, and are currently
being translated into Khmer.
Professor Akio Morishima, who helped draw up the codes, was quick to point out that
despite Japan's involvement, the laws must be relevant to Cambodian society.
"Laws must not deviate from the society from which they come," he said.
"We have to take into consideration the constitution of that country when we
are going to make a law."
The codes received enthusiastic support from provincial judges including Pol Vorn,
chief judge at Kampong Speu's provincial court.
"We wanted a code because there was no code before," said Vorn. "It
could help me to make decisions during the trial as I follow the code and this would
make people satisfied with the law. When there was no law some people followed one
law, some the other, so implementation was difficult."
The drafting process, which began in 1999, should be finished by March next year.
Once the two codes are passed by the National Assembly, it will be largely the job
of provincial courts to disseminate the new laws to the community.