Courts Under Fire for Corruption, Incompetence

Tuot Lux, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, decried wide­spread corruption and im­pro­per implementation of the law in Cam­­bodia’s courts on Tuesday, blam­­ing a shortage of trained and scru­pulous judges and prosecutors.

“We have received a lot of complaints and criticism from the people about our courts,” said Tuot Lux, the Funcinpec secretary of state. He said that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court is subject to the most complaints.

“A lot of criticism goes to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court” be­cause it handles the largest num­­ber of cases, Tuot Lux said. The irregularities most often reported to the minis­try involve suspects being jailed be­yond the legal six-month pre-tri­al detention period, he added.

By comparison, Tuot Lux said: “Very little criticism goes to the provincial courts because they have many good judges with great consciences.”

With 120 judges and 65 prose­cu­tors across the country, Cambodia lacks enough jurists to properly deal with the volume of cases the courts now process, he said. The backlog often forces de­tained suspects to wait behind bars longer than the legal six-month period and pressures jud­ges into making swift decisions without properly reviewing their cas­es, he said. “With so many cas­es, a judge is­sues the verdict without much consideration.”

Ngeth Sarath, deputy chief prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, agreed that a shortage of court officials is a problem.

“There are detentions over the [le­gal] period because of not having enough judges and prosecutors,” he said Tuesday.

Asked about corruption at the hands of court officials, however, Ngeth Sarath said, “I am inside. I can’t look at myself. Only outsiders can know my mistakes.”

Nup Sophon, deputy director of the municipal court declined to comment on Tuot Lux’s assertions Tuesday. “I don’t have any comment. Please go to ask [Tuot Lux],” Nup Sophon said, before switching off his phone.

Though judges and prosecutors received a substantial pay hike in January 2003, from about $20 per month to between $330 and $640 a month, under-the-table deals are still rampant, Tuot Lux said. The salaries “are already suita­ble enough if compared with the sa­la­ries of other civil servants.”

Last month, Kassie Neou, anoth­­er secretary of state for the Justice Ministry, lamented its lack of power to implement long-awaited reforms. Tuot Lux said the min­is­­try will nevertheless continue its in­vestigations. “If the judges and pro­secutors don’t follow [the law], we will file com­plaints to the Su­preme Council of Magistracy.”

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