Law Students Skittish After Judge Removals

Students at the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors said Sunday they had been following keenly the controversial dismissal of two Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges, but they spoke warily of the case.

Chan Dararasmey, a first-year student, said he wouldn’t dare pass judgment on the Supreme Council of Magistracy’s decision to remove investigating judges Hing Thirith and Oun Bunna.

“I am a judge student, so before I make any decisions, I must have evidence and witnesses,” he said.

The Supreme Council—the na­tion’s highest legal body, charged with monitoring judges’ conduct and court independence—de­fended Friday the removal of Hing Thirith, which elicited more outcry than Oun Bunna’s dismissal.

Denying the move was political, as Hing Thirith has charged, the council attributed its decision to mistakes the investigating judge allegedly made in unnamed court cases. Hing Thirith had been involved in numerous high-profile trials, the verdicts of which could have had political implications for some parties.

According to an unsigned statement from the Supreme Council, the cases against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nhim Sophea and the suspects in the slaying of union leader Chea Vichea did not weigh on its decision.

“Some say Hing Thirith is right. Some say the Supreme Council is right. Some say something is happening behind the scenes,” Chan Dararasmey said.

“I have followed this case, and I have some suspicions.”

Asked whether he thought the council had acted independently, Chan Dararasmey remained cagey.

“Where are they from? And who appointed them? And who gives them power?” he asked.

The Supreme Council is widely reputed to be a strong, but mostly inactive, judicial arm of the CPP.

Another student, who said he would fail his examination if his name appeared in this article, said the firing of the two judges was clearly political.

“I am suspicious. Why did the Supreme Council make its decision immediately [after Hing Thirith] dropped the charges against the Chea Vichea suspects?” he asked.

But the student said the case has not discouraged him about his future in the Cambodian court system. “I used to work with a local NGO and talk to many people, the oppressed people. I understand about the people’s feelings. So I could not take a bribe when I am a judge,” he said.

An anonymous classmate said: “The students dare not tell their ideas to the newspapers. We are just talking among ourselves about this case.”

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