Council of Ministers Approves Laws on Judicial Reform

The Council of Ministers on Friday passed three long-awaited laws on the reform of the judiciary and will send them to the National Assembly early next week.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over Friday’s meeting to see the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, and the Law on the Statute of Judges and Prosecutors approved, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.

“The Council of Ministers supported and approved the three laws and these laws are scheduled to be sent to the National Assembly by Monday or Tuesday,” he said.

He declined to comment when asked if any changes had been made to the draft laws. Critics said the three draft laws gave the Justice Ministry too much control over the courts, unduly limited the King’s powers over the Supreme Council of the Magistracy and failed to prohibit party affiliations for judges and prosecutors, among other problems.

“The preparation of these three fundamental laws is a vital key start for the fifth mandate of the National Assembly on law and judicial reforms, which are the core factors of the Royal Government’s Rectangular Strategy,” said an official statement from the Council of Ministers.

It said the law on the courts would help “keep impartiality and protect people’s rights.” The law on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy will “help the king ensure the independence of the court’s power,” while the law on judges and prosecutors will ensure they are “competent, honest and have good morals.”

But Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that if the laws were passed as they were in their draft forms, he would be “concerned about the independence of the judiciary.”

“I urge the National Assembly not to rush to pass this law and wait until political deadlock is solved,” he added, referring to an ongoing boycott of parliament by the opposition CNRP.

Mu Sochua, an opposition lawmaker-elect and the CNRP’s head of public affairs, said the laws would be sent to the relevant parliamentary commission before heading to the floor.

“But there should be a public hearing so the public can be given time to study the law and give input and especially academics,” she said. “The whole process has to be transparent, but 99 percent it is not, it goes straight for the Council of Ministers to the parliamentary commissions and then to the floor.”

Ms. Sochua added that the CNRP objected in principle to the passage of the bills when opposition members of parliament had not taken their seats. She said if the political deadlock continued, the CNRP would attempt to exert pressure on the CPP to stop the laws from reaching the floor of the assembly.

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