Despite a lack of support from the SRP, the National Assembly on Wednesday passed a law enabling judges to impose penalties for civil violations.
The law, which was meant to fill holes in previous civil procedural legislation, gives judges the right to impose fines on witnesses that they deem to have given false testimony and parents who do not obtain birth certificates for their children, to name two offenses prominently mentioned in Wednesday’s debate.
The SRP objected to the law, saying it gave too much unilateral authority to judges in a judiciary that was still too open to outside influence, particularly of a political nature. The opposition also argued the law came down too hard on ordinary citizens—the poor being foremost—for civil infractions while not addressing the role of corrupt officials in perpetuating those infractions.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann rose to say that he did not support the law because of the current state of the judiciary. He called on the government to finish drafting its law on the status of judges and prosecutors—a piece of legislation that would define what they can and cannot do.
Yim Sovann’s remarks were cut short by Assembly President Heng Samrin, who said that if the SRP lawmaker did not favor passage of the law, he should not speak at all.
“Please stop talking if you don’t support the law,” Heng Samrin said, before turning off Yim Sovann’s microphone when the SRP lawmaker tried to continue.
Heng Samrin’s actions drew immediate praise from CPP Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel who said it was “correct to stop somebody when he talks off topic.”
Those remarks brought immediate condemnation from SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who blasted the president and first vice president for not chairing the session neutrally or impartially.
After Nguon Nhel retorted that he is “never biased,” Son Chhay went on to reassert the SRP position that passage of the judge and prosecutor status law is necessary before giving judges the power prescribed in the civil penalties law.
“The prosecutors and judges status law is better than a law to put pressure on poor people,” he said.
Justice Ministry Secretary of State Hy Sophea, who was on hand to defend the draft law for the government, said the court must have the means to punish people who give false testimony if it is to have any hope of providing justice.