The Municipality’s order to re-arrest suspected criminals and its public scolding of two Municipal Court judges and two deputy prosecutors on Wednesday was not quite what NGO workers said they had in mind when it comes to reforming Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt judiciary.
“I do not see the reform in that way,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.
Chea Vannath and others said Thursday that the municipal authorities’ reprimand of allegedly corrupt court officials only further extended the reach of the government’s executive branch into judicial affairs.
“The judiciary is [already] under the control of the executive branch,” contrary to the Constitution’s guarantee of an independent judicial system, Chea Vannath said. “I don’t see any advance [in judicial reform] at all.”
Wednesday’s order by the Phnom Penh Municipality to re-arrest six suspected criminals was not the first time the government openly waded into judicial affairs.
In December 1999, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to re-arrest some 195 suspects and criminals after then-Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara charged court officials with taking bribes.
Following the order, opposition officials and rights workers blasted the government, saying it undermined the authority of the courts.
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, said Thursday that real judicial reform would mean revamping the Supreme Council of Magistracy to give it the independence it needs to punish wayward court officials. “There’s a way to hold prosecutors and judges accountable for their work…. It should come more from the Supreme Council of Magistracy.”
But, as to whether the Council is capable of doing so fairly, Yeng Virak said: “We still have concerns about that.”
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that reforming the Council should be a top priority, since members of the ruling political parties are appointed to “the very highest ranks” of the Council.