Judge Shortage At Hight Court Leads to Delays

The Supreme Court is facing a shortage of judges, forcing them to delay even long-postponed cases, officials said Wednesday.

“The court doesn’t have enough judges currently,” said Yos Sok­heoun, a judge currently serving at the Supreme Court.

Judge Sokheoun cited a recent de­cree issued by the Supreme Council of Magistracy—one officials have expected would lead to both the reshuffling and the retirement of many judges—as the root cause.

“Four judges have left. We need six more,” he said, adding that: “The court is waiting for six sup­reme judges who need to be appointed by royal decree.”

According to Judge Sokheoun the Supreme Court previously had a pool of 11 to 12 judges, from which five- to nine-judge panels would be selected for any given case. The current dearth of judicial officials has led to a virtual cessation of activity at the Supreme Court, court officials acknowledged Wednesday.

“We have enough prosecutors and clerks working,” said Judge Sokheoun, “but not judges.” It is unclear, he said, when replacements will come.

Kheang Srun, the Supreme Court clerk responsible for criminal cases, said that at present there are only nine serving judges at the court, but at least two of the officials on a list he provided-judges Prak Kimsan and Mong Monychariya-no longer work at the court.

Judge Kimsan, who is now president of the Pre-Trial Chamber at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, confirmed yesterday that he no longer works at the Supreme Court, but added that he was confident the judge shortage would soon be addressed.

“They will not let it be deadlocked like this, they will find a solution,” he said.

At least two cases were delayed yesterday at the Supreme Court, according to Billie Jean Slott, a defense lawyer for one of the cases scheduled to be heard. Her client, Australian Gordon Vuong, was arrested four-and-a-half years ago, at the age of 16, on charges of drug smuggling. His appeal was originally due to be heard by the Supreme Court last year, said Ms Slott, but the hearing was postponed at the request of defense attorneys. Yesterday’s delay, Ms Slott said, was “due to the fact that a reorganization is occurring.

“It has to tie into the fact that judges are being reassigned due to retirement,” she said, saying that she wasn’t at all worried about Mr Vuong’s case being rescheduled and that she expected a hearing in September.

Mr Srun, the Supreme Court clerk, confirmed Wednesday’s hearing was delayed due to the lack of judges: “We have a problem this week since we don’t have enough judges as some retired and some are on mission appointed by the government,” he said.

Ouk Kimleng, legal director at Legal Aid of Cambodia, a non-governmental organization, said he was not was not surprised by the delay in cases before the Supreme Court and elsewhere given the shortage of judges and potential caseloads.

“It’s not only about the Supreme Court-in the Appeal Court and in the provincial courts, too, they need more judges,” he said.

According to figures provided by the Supreme Court, there were 487 criminal cases sent to the court in 2008, 307 of which were held over from the previous year. Another 1,981 civil cases were placed on the court’s docket in 2008, only 619 of them were new cases.



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