Prime Minister Hun Sen’s promise to deal with corruption in the judiciary with an “iron fist” came to pass this week as officials confirmed the Supreme Council of Magistracy has fired one judge and one deputy prosecutor.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kong Sarith and Deputy Prosecutor Siem Sok Aun were relieved of their duties this week, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said Wednesday.
In addition, judges Ham Mengse and Hing Thirith and Deputy Prosecutor Khut Sopheang have been suspended for one year while Municipal Court Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savouth was given a warning, the minister said.
Ang Vong Vathana said he did not know why those specific punishments were handed out, referring the matter to the council’s two disciplinary committees, one for judges and one for prosecutors.
“They have the committees on how to discipline them,” he said.
Supreme Court President Dith Monty and Supreme Court Chief Prosecutor Ouk Vithun, who head the two committees, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
At least one judge said he did not know why he was suspended and said he had not been called to defend himself.
Hing Thirith said he did not know whether the charges against him had stemmed from his work in Phnom Penh or Stung Treng, where he was transferred after dropping charges against the two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea.
“I always sent the cases for trial,” he said Wednesday. “I have never dropped cases.”
Following complaints from police in March, Hun Sen vowed to re-arrest hundreds of armed robbers who bribed their way out of jail and to arrest corrupt judges and prosecutors.
In April, the six men were formally charged for taking bribes, though little other information has been released.
Kong Sarith refused to comment Wednesday.
“I don’t dare to give my comments,” he said. “Let my superiors consider what to do with me.”
Siem Sok Aun, Khut Sopheang and Ham Mengse could not be reached for comment.
Ang Vong Vathana said the council also decided Monday to start rotating 25 percent of judges and prosecutors to different parts of the country each year, meaning each official will move every four years.
He said many judges and prosecutors get settled into their positions and are able to benefit from their positions by using networks they build around them. By moving the court officials, it could keep such networks from being established.
“Maybe this is the best way to fight corruption,” the minister said. “We are trying to get reforms in the court.”
He said officials will now determine how the process will work.
Adhoc President Thun Saray welcomed the council’s decision to start rotating judges and prosecutors as a “small step” toward judicial reform and fighting corruption.
“If they are in one place for a long time, they can do a lot of bad things,” he said, though he added the government must ensure the rotation scheme is done properly or more problems could arise.
However, Thun Saray blasted the secrecy surrounding the council’s decision to discipline the six court officials implicated in taking bribes.
“They only deal with the cases brought up by the government,” he said. “There are many cases from lawyers and the public that I don’t see the Supreme Council of Magistracy acting on yet.”
In addition, he said that without a clear statute governing the procedures for disciplining court officials and the appropriate penalties, any such actions are suspect.
“We would like to see full transparency,” Thun Saray said. “We need to have clear regulations and a legal framework on what kinds of actions can be taken.”
Lawyer Kao Soupha also spoke out Wednesday against the council’s decision.
“According to the law, before you fire a judge you must find out if they are guilty or not,” Kao Soupha said. “They just fired them without letting them defend themselves.”