The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday discussed with NGOs the long-delayed draft law on the status of judges and prosecutors, which aims to define jurists’ terms of service.
Passage of the law, drafting of which began in 1994, was highlighted in UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht’s recent report as a key to Cambodia’s legal and judicial reform.
“We are working on this draft because we want judges to work independently and professionally,” ministry Secretary of State Ang Vong Vathana said on Wednesday.
Under the law, judges cannot take outside jobs other than teaching. They must consider cases without bias and based solely on principles of law. They must be free from pressure and intimidation and can request protection from government authorities if they feel threatened.
Judges must be Cambodian nationals, have at least a bachelor’s degree in law, have no criminal record and be sound of mind and body. Their retirement age is set at 65, but they can request to stay on up to age 68. Those who have served at least 30 years can retire at any time and receive a pension equivalent to their salary.
Judges must conduct their daily lives with dignity and be politically neutral. Their salaries will be docked if they miss 15 days of work, and their positions stripped after a month’s absence.
Judges who are “careless in their work and don’t respect their profession” can be fired.
Ky Tech, president of the Cambodian Bar Association, praised the draft but said it needed to elaborate on what offenses could lead to disciplinary action and the nature of that discipline. He also asked the ministry to add a provision specifying that lawyers are eligible to take the judges exam.
Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the law looks good on paper but is unlikely to have an effect on Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt judiciary.
“The law is always good, but putting it into practice is very difficult,” he said.