Deputy PM Says Judicial Reforms Will Progress

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An at a roundtable conference Wed­nes­day said that judicial reforms were moving ahead even if critics didn’t notice them.

During a lengthy talk to an audience of journalists, he also said the press was not doing its job well, adding that the government has decided to train journalists properly instead of filing more defamation law­suits.

Sok An compared court reform to the construction of a house, saying passers-by might not notice that the foundation had been laid.

“Critics say we haven’t done any reform, but actually we have done a lot,” he said.

He added that his involvement in drafting legal reform laws is appropriate.

“Why do I become co-chairman of judiciary and legal reform?” he asked. “Because legal reform and judiciary reform cannot happen se­parately,” he added.

Besides being deputy prime minister, Sok An is also the minister in charge of the Council of Ministers and co-president of legal and judicial reform.

According to a draft law on the organization of the courts, he could also play an important role in a proposed Administrative Court.

Some observers have argued that his many positions could allow the executive and legislative branch­es to have too much influence over the judiciary.

Sok An said journalists have an important role in a democracy but ad­ded that many journalists do not exhibit sufficient professionalism.

“Newspaper articles slander and print more lies than facts,” Sok An said. There are only two choices for the government, he said: suing er­rant journalists or training them.

“The government has chosen the latter,” he said.

Legal experts and rights groups were more blunt about the pro­gress of court reform.

“We must be careful,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project. “Reforms should not impair the in­dependence of the judiciary.”

“The court gets its power from politicians,” said Chan Soveth, a monitor with local rights group Adhoc, citing controversial recent court verdicts such as one finding no one guilty in a bloody Poipet land eviction in March where witnesses said security forces shot several villagers dead.

 

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