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Cambodia: Law On The Statute Of Judges, Not Their Retirement, Is The Right End From Which To Tackle Judicial Reform

Written By vibykhmer on Sunday, August 9, 2009 | 6:57 PM


Sunday, 9 August 2009
Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission

Cambodia: Law On The Statute Of Judges, Not Their Retirement, Is The Right End From Which To Tackle Judicial Reform

Last June the Cambodian government ignored the jurisdiction of the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM) when it bypassed the court and got the King, who is chairman of this supreme judicial council, to retire and replace half of the eight SCM members. The retired members were Ouk Vithun, Prosecutor General of the Supreme Court, 62, an ex-officio member; Henrot Raken, 68, Prosecutor General of the Appeal Court, another ex-officio member; Khieu Sameth, 62, President of Kandal Provincial Court, an appointed member; and Sin Dim, 66, President of Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, another appointed member.

The government’s infringement upon the SMC’s jurisdiction is unconstitutional as it violated the independence of the judiciary of which the SCM is an integral part. Apparently the government was not happy with the lack of the SMC’s swift disciplinary action against a provincial prosecutor whose alleged faults had been widely reported in the press.

Perhaps more importantly, the government was not happy with the SCM when the latter had not retired the judges and prosecutors it had proposed. The SCM had its own reasons for not heeding the government’s proposal. It wanted to uphold its independence and exercise its authority over the nomination and discipline of judges and prosecutors.

Even more importantly, there was no law on the statute of judges and prosecutors which should set the retirement age for them. The government has not yet enacted this long overdue law and also the law on the organization of the judiciary when the country‘s Constitution has specifically stipulated the need to enact both laws since 1993. Like the law on the statute of civil servants and the law on the statute of members of the armed forces, which have not been specifically stipulated in the Constitution and which had both been enacted in the mid-1990s, this law on the statute of judges and prosecutors would determine, among other things, the age of retirement for judges and prosecutors. Without this law, the SCM would have no legal basis to retire judges and prosecutors.

The SCM did not comply with a government decree (not a law) which has been echoed by subsequent government circular letters and which fixes the retirement age of 60 for judges and prosecutors when this decree was based on no law on the statute of judges and prosecutors. This inaction has led the government to accuse the SCM of defending certain members of the judiciary who have wished to remain in active service.

Now with a new composition more amenable to the government’s wishes, the SCM sets out to retire some 27 elder judges and prosecutors, retirement which some have seen as part of the long overdue judicial reform.

However, the retirement of the four members of the SCM in June and the planned retirement of a big batch of judges and prosecutors are but palliatives to defuse mounting pressure for judicial reform. These measures have tackled this reform at the wrong end and have in no way come to address the real issue of the legal foundation of Cambodia’s entire judiciary. They have further violated the constitutional principle of the separation of powers, judicial independence and consolidated the executive control of the judiciary.

If the government is not happy with the functioning of the SCM, the Prime Minister should raise the issue with the King who is its chairman when he has an audience with him twice a month (Art.20 of the Constitution). The government should not delay any further the enactment of the law on the statute of judges and prosecutors and the law on the organization of the judiciary so that judges and prosecutors, who belong to the same body of magistrates, would have proper legal status, which they don’t have at the moment, and all courts of law would be duly established by law, which they are not at the moment. Everyone would thus be entitled to be tried by an independent, competent and impartial tribunal established by law, a right which is specifically stipulated under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Cambodia is a party.

The government cannot apply the law on the nomination of judges and on the functioning of courts of law enacted in the communist days, prior to the promulgation of the current Constitution, and any decree enacted thereof when they are not among the “Laws and standard documents in Cambodia that safeguard State properties, rights, freedom and legal private properties and in conformity with the national interests, (which) shall continue to be effective until altered or abrogated by new texts” under the transitional article 158 of the current Constitution.

The absence of the law on the statute of judges and prosecutors poses a big problem of legitimacy for the composition of the SCM itself whose three judge members should be elected by their peers, an election which has been held up for 16 years, which is too long. The lack of the legitimacy of the composition of the SCM in turn questions the legitimacy of the composition of the country’s Constitutional Council which is a sort of a constitutional court, whose three members are appointed by the SCM.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the Cambodian government to prioritise the building of the legal foundation and framework of the country’s entire judiciary, its organization and the status of judges and prosecutors by enacting the law on their statute, including their retirement age, in tandem with the law on the organisation of the judiciary, two of the important laws that are specifically stipulated in the country’s constitution. This is the right end from which it should tackle judicial reform in Cambodia.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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