The long-awaited draft law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy continues the practice of secret votes and gives Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana key powers, according to excerpts from the document, but it would reduce the position of King Norodom Sihamoni if passed in its current form.
The 39-article draft Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy provides extensive powers for the seven-member council—headed by the King—to appoint and remove judges and prosecutors from positions within the judiciary.
However, Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders’ Project, said after reading the excerpts that it appears that attempts are being made to limit the King’s judicial role, while the justice minister has been given more power, including the right to convene a meeting of the Council.
“I think that this law doesn’t allow the King to be involved with the decisions of the Supreme Council of Magistracy,” Mr. Sam Oeun said yesterday.
“The King is the one who guarantees the independence of the judiciary, but in this law, the King is just a symbol not making decisions, so it is not consistent with the Constitution,” he said.
“It’s better for him to be involved too.”
Article 11, which refers to the practice already applied since 1994, states that: “The decision of the Supreme Council of Magistracy is considered as official as long as there are at least seven voices approved through a secret vote.”
“His Majesty, the President of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, doesn’t take part in the decision-making of the Supreme Council of Magistracy,” the article adds.
“In an emergency case requested by the seven members of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the decision of the Supreme Council of Magistracy can be through an indirect and secret vote,” Article 11 states, adding that the justice minister is responsible for ensuring the council’s rulings are carried out.
According to Article 13, royal decrees must be proposed and drafted by the justice minister, who should then submit them to the King for approval.
The law on the Supreme Council of Magistracy is part of a trio of long-awaited, constitutionally required laws meant to make the judicial system more transparent and independent.