Despite it being illegal for court clerks to perform judicial functions, this can sometimes be allowable but only under the supervision of judges or prosecutors, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said Monday.
Legal experts said last month that clerks were illegally performing the work of investigating judges and prosecutors, and in many cases questioning witnesses, which exposed cases to the risk of nullification.
Ang Vong Vathana, who is also a member of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, said on Monday that such practices were not illegal in every case.
“Judges must be there but if they have obligations, are unable to stay; it is not against the law,” Ang Vong Vathana said.
“Sometimes, judges leave for somewhere for a moment, five to 10 minutes. It doesn’t mean they have to stay there for the whole two hours,” he said.
“If they don’t participate and let the clerks work alone, it is illegal,” he added.
Tep Darong, director of the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions, said Monday that the academy’s Royal School for Clerks had recently completed a six-month clerk training course for 81 students, each of whom had taken an oath.
“They swore they would work correctly, maintain secrecy and would do everything to maintain discipline,” Tep Darong said, adding that the two-year-old school had recently completed training for 500 clerks working nationwide who had not previously received any training.
“It is very important to train them how to take notes and assist judges. Judges cannot work alone,” he said.
Attorney Ny Chandy, who manages a model court program for Legal Aid of Cambodia, said Monday that the clerk training was welcome but that corruption will persist as long as salaries remain low.
“The context of justice in Cambodia is fragile due to corruption,” he said, referring to the temptations surrounding those in the judicial system.
“Court officials work like chickens laying eggs in a rice warehouse. Even the good chickens will eat the rice,” he said.
“A higher salary doesn’t mean it would stop corruption, but it would reduce it when they have a legitimate salary,” he added.