The Battambang Provincial Court’s unprecedented decision to charge three judges, as well as six other court officials, on allegations of taking bribes was received with mixed reaction by legal experts on Friday.
Battambang’s chief prosecutor Yam Yet said Thursday that he charged Stung Treng Provincial Court Judge Hing Thirith and Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges Kong Sarith and Ham Mengse on April 25.
The three, along with three prosecutors, are charged with taking bribes, allegedly in exchange for releasing suspected criminals, he said. Three court clerks have been charged with being accomplices.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defender’s Project, said this is the first time in his recollection that judges have been charged with crimes.
While he said he “appreciated” that court officials were being held accountable to the law, he believed they should not be prosecuted by their peers.
“We do not have a special court to charge them,” Sok Sam Oeun said Friday.
“When [they are prosecuted by people of the] same position, there would not be much trust from the public if the court found that the accused were not guilty,” he said.
Lawyer Kao Soupha said Friday that the practice of taking bribes is widespread among the courts.
“I think that the charge [faced by the three judges] should be made for every court official all over the country,” he said.
One court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the charging of court officials will not contribute to judicial reform, but will instead intimidate judges and prevent them from acting independently.
“Such an action is not a resolution, but is pushing the court into a corner so that it cannot make any judgments,” the official said.
“It is seriously damaging to the reputation of the legal system in the country,” the official added.