Justice Minister Warns Court Clerks Over Unlawful Work

Justice Minister Ang Vong Va­thana has admonished the country’s court clerks for unlawfully un­dertaking the work of prosecutors and judges, warning the officials that they will face disciplinary action if they “commit inappropriate deeds.”

“In the recent past, the Ministry of Justice has received complaints from the public who need judicial service at the courthouses and are dissatisfied with some individuals who are court clerks and officials,” Mr Vong Vathana wrote in a letter dated July 16.

“The Ministry of Justice would like to admonish those people working as clerks, officials at all levels of the courts and officials at the Ministry of Justice: The clerk profession as well as the code of procedure that is in effect do not allow clerks to undertake either the role of the judge or prosecutor,” the minister said.

“The clerk has a duty to make records, prepare files and help carry out the procedures based on the principle of neutrality and impartiality. The clerk cannot represent any parties, [and] all operations of the clerks have to be carried out according to the orders of either a judge or prosecutor who is in charge of the files,” he continued.

The letter called on clerks and court officials to be “well-mannered, moral [and] gentle” so as to build public trust in the courts, and ended by warning that “the Mini­stry of Justice will take most serious actions to discipline any officials and clerks who commit inappropriate deeds affecting the judiciary.”

Sam Pracheameanith, Cabinet chief for Mr Vong Vathana, said yesterday that the Ministry of Justice had received “many” complaints of clerks “acting as judges and officials and using inappropriate words and threats.”

He said he did not know the exact number of complaints.

“If they [court clerks] still commit wrongs, the Ministry of Jus­tice’s disciplinary council will discipline them,” he said.

Chiv Keng, president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said the letter was an “admonishment in general,” adding that “it is up to the Ministry of Justice to investigate” alleged abuses.

The letter from Mr Vong Vath­ana cames about a month after a CPP lawmaker appeared for questioning at the Justice Ministry on June 15 after accusing a municipal court clerk of trying to act as a facilitator in a court case.

For decades, interviewing of suspects, witnesses and victims has been carried out by clerks at the country’s courts, a situation that has been criticized by legal experts and become so severe that calls have been made for the nullification of cases investigated in such a manner.

Diep Kulam, manager of Model Court Project for Legal Aid of Cambodia, estimated yesterday that clerks did the work of judges in about half of the roughly 200 cases a year his project monitors at Kandal Provincial Court.

“I think in maybe half of the cases the court clerk does ac­tions without the judge and the judge just only signs the letter,” he said.

“Sometimes we accept the action of the court clerk to speed up the case,” he added. “If we do not accept, it means we delay the dur­ation of the court case so may­be our client spends a long time in detention.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the free legal aid organization the Cambodian Defenders Project, also said clerks frequently exceeded their roles but only because they were handed extra duties by their superiors.

“In practice they are doing like that but is it not their fault—it is because the investigating judges and prosecutors delegate them to do that,” he said.

Clerks receive a very different education than judges or prosecutors and are usually unqualified to take on such responsibilities, Mr Sam Oeun said.

This means that when a clerk undertakes the work of a judge or prosecutor, it can harm the rights of people involved in a court case, he said.

“If the clerk is not competent…it affects the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim,” Mr Sam Oeun added.

 

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