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New laws on judiciary due by ‘end of month’

Police stand under a portrait of the King at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2012
Police stand under a portrait of the King at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2012. Meng Kimlong

New laws on judiciary due by ‘end of month’

The Ministry of Justice is kicking into overdrive its long-stagnated efforts to finish three fundamental laws on the function of the judiciary, saying it hopes to complete the laws – which it characterises as key judicial reforms – by the end of the month, the ministry said yesterday.

The three laws have been in the works since at least 2005, but Sam Prachea Manith, chief of cabinet at the Justice Ministry, said yesterday that the draft of the first, the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts, had finally been completed. Drafts of the remaining two – the Law on the Amendment of the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors – are under review by legal teams, he added.

“I am not sure about the exact date, but we hope that the three draft laws are likely to be finished as soon as possible, maybe by the end of this month, and after that we will immediately send them to the Council of Ministers for approval,” Prachea Manith said.

The push comes after Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to make judicial reform a key goal in the government’s fifth mandate. It also follows hard on the heels of criticism of Cambodia’s judiciary at a human rights review at the UN last week by several Western countries, including Spain, which maintained that Cambodia’s steps towards an independent court system “have not been sufficient”.

Responding to the criticism at the time, a member of the Cambodian delegation said that key judicial reforms needed to be passed “within two or three weeks”.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said he had not seen the draft laws, but parliamentarians were poised to pass them when they return in April, with or without the participation of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has boycotted the parliament following last July’s elections.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday the party would continue its boycott, but said nonetheless that it was “meaningless to adopt laws” with the CNRP absent.

The Justice Ministry’s Prachea Manith did not comment on how the new laws would achieve judicial independence, and court officials and rights observers alike are still unsure as to their specifics.

“I haven’t read the draft laws yet, so I am not sure whether the laws will be good or bad for judges and prosecutors,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth. “However, I think these laws will help guarantee the independence of judges and prosecutors.”

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said that civil society was also in the dark on the laws’ particulars, but said he hoped they would be sufficiently strong to work effectively.

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