Judges Say Courts Still Lack Independence

An overwhelming majority of judges said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to rearrest suspects already dismissed by the courts was against the law, while 85 percent of prosecutors said the courts are not completely independent, partly because of interference from powerful people, according to a new survey on the legal system.

A survey by Star Kampuchea, a local NGO that advocates democracy, interviewed judges, lawyers and prosecutors in seven provincial, municipal, military and appellate courts.

NGO workers, parties to litigation and members of the Sup­reme Council of Magistracy, which oversees judges, were also interviewed.

Copies of the report were sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Justice Minister Uk Vithun, Senate President Chea Sim and the National Assembly, said Yoib Meta of Star Kampuchea.

“We hope the report will give ideas to the National Assembly on how to establish an anti-corruption law,” he said.

Cambodian courts are known to not meet international standards, with corruption, low pay for judges and other problems standing in the way of forming a fair and accessible judiciary.

When the 13 judges interviewed were asked what they thought of today’s courts, most made negative comments, with some saying the courts lacked independence and were incompetent and unjust.

“When a judge makes a decision, a high-ranking official puts pressure on the court and tells the judge to change the decision,” said Keo Sakhan, deputy director of the Sihanoukville court. “Then the loser becomes the winner.”

They also said Hun Sen’s order last December to rearrest 66 suspects who allegedly bribed court officials to drop charges interfered with the court’s independence. Prosecutors and lawyers interviewed agreed.

To reform the court system, judges suggested increasing the pay for judges from their current $20 a month salary, rotate judges in the provinces and cities, and provide continuous training for court officials.

“If my wife didn’t have a business of selling bed sheets, we wouldn’t be able to pay our electricity bills,” said Ros Sarin, a judge in Kandal province.

Most of the 13 prosecutors interviewed said they do not make a presumption of innocence for cases involving members of the royal family, powerful people, people with good connections and opposition party members.

They said a lack of laws to cover all criminal and civil issues poses as an obstacle. Prosecutors also said they lack autonomous funds because the courts control the budget.

Lawyers said the courts op­press the poor and weak, and judges do not make independent decisions because they face pressure from superiors.

Twelve people who went through the trial courts—six who won and six who lost—were also interviewed.

Those who won said they were successful because they had the means to pay and connections, while those who lost said they didn’t have enough money and witnesses were afraid to tell the truth.

The survey was conducted in Kandal, Kompong Speu, Kom­pong Cham, Takeo and Kom­pong Chhnang provinces, in addition to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.





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