The Ministry of Justice now has two versions of the draft penal code to consider in the painstaking process of establishing post-war criminal law.
This latest draft is comprised of 818 articles and was officially presented to Minister of Cabinet Sok An by French Ambassador Andre-Jean Libourel last month. Two weeks ago, the Khmer version prepared through a French cooperation program was distributed at the Ministry of Justice.
The document, which was five years in the making, was written by a Philippe Castel, consultant to the Paris Appeal Court, and translated into Khmer by a team of Cambodian jurists.
The introduction to the draft mentions three goals: effective punishment, individualized sentences, and indemnity for victims.
The other draft of the penal code was completed in 1996 and contains 540 articles, which the ministry’s codification commission is nearly half-way through revising.
At first glance, the French-cooperation version appears better than the earlier one, said Suy Nou, secretary of state at the Justice Ministry and president of the penal law codification commission. He said revision work will involve ensuring that “the draft coincides with our problems, especially crimes against women and minors.” Suy Nou said he expects to use the latest draft as the basis for the final code.
Phov Sanphy, assistant to Justice Minister Uk Vithun, also said he believes the latest draft is more complete than the 1996 version. For example, he said, the latest draft addresses international crime and extradition matters.
The earlier draft is based on the 1934 Cambodian code, said Denis Sainte-Marie, project leader for France’s administrative and juridical cooperation program.
Currently, Cambodia remains under transition-period measures adopted in 1992 in lieu of the pre-war penal code, while the country was under UN supervision. The measures include a list of 35 crimes that has been expanded in the last nine years without being adopted in a formal code.
Adoption of a new penal code is seen by legal experts as one of the most crucial steps in updating Cambodia’s judicial system.
The review process of the drafts will take a long time and rightfully so, said Claude Gour, legal adviser to Cambodian authorities and law professor emeritus at the University of Toulouse in France. This code and most laws in the country are drafted with the technical support of foreign attorneys who are products of their nations’ cultures and beliefs, he said, adding that Cambodians must ensure that the texts reflect this nation’s culture and beliefs.
“What is needed is a coherent and efficient [code] adapted to the country’s reality,” Sainte-Marie said.
Legal systems worldwide borrow from each other, but laws of one country are not necessarily right for another, he added.
The latest draft is the second initiative of the French cooperation program in the area of penal law. In 1998, the draft of the penal procedures code was presented to the Cambodian government. The Justice Ministry completed its review and submitted the modified draft to the Council of Ministers last June.