No Mention of Party Affiliation in Code for Judges

A new draft law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors does not prohibit the judiciary from affiliation with political parties and allows Supreme Court judges and prosecutors to work beyond the mandatory retirement age of 60, when all other judges will be expected to retire.

The long-awaited law, one of three now in the final stages of drafting, is supposed to ensure the independence of the country’s judiciary, which is widely considered to be mired in corruption and beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

Article 107 of the 111-article draft law, a copy of which was obtained Thursday, states that “for serving judges and prosecutors in all the courts, their work is incompatible with public duties, such as lawmakers, senators, government members and all positions received in an election mandate,” and that they can also not work as legal representatives on a private basis.

No mention, however, is made of political party affiliation.

Supreme Court President Dith Munty, 70, who the CPP lists as a member of the ruling party’s central—and ever more powerful—permanent committee, said he would not comment on the draft law, which is expected to go before the Council of Ministers next week.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid Cambodian Defenders’ Project, said Thursday that he had not seen the draft law but hoped it would contain a clause that prohibited political affiliations by judicial officials.

“This law is very important to guarantee the independence of judges,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.

“If it’s written well, it can protect the independence of the judiciary…. Judges must not be a member of any political party—for prosecutors, it’s ok,” he added.

The law does contain a code of ethics that governs both judges and prosecutors, which makes no reference in the draft form to political party membership.

“Judges and prosecutors must be balanced and stand on their principles, respect the law, and don’t act under pressure or threats,” the code of ethics states.

Those who fail to comply with the code face verbal or written warnings and suspension for up to two years with reduced pay.

A second, more severe grade of penalties includes suspension of salary for up to a year or forcible retirement.

On the subject of retirement, judges and prosecutors at the Supreme Court will not be required to retire at the current retirement age of 60 and will be assessed by the Supreme Council of Magistracy if they want to keep working beyond the age of 65, the law states.

In addition to Judge Munty, who is 70, the court’s vice president, Judge Khim Pon, is 74 and judges Ty Neng and Yuos Sokhoeun, are both 68.

Judge Sokhoeun said Thursday that the provision for a later retirement was a good idea, “because it allows judges to

continue their work…. I am satisfied with this draft law.”

Mr. Sam Oeun said he had no problem with seeing the Supreme Court judges work into their later years, adding that this is also the practice in the U.S. and Thailand.

“But I want to see one more condition, that after they retire…they must not be in any leadership role. For example, if the president of the Supreme Court retires, he cannot be a chief justice, he would have to be a normal judge [if he decides to return to work),” Mr. Sam Oeun said.

Justice Ministry spokesman Sam Pracheameanith said meetings were held Thursday and Wednesday on the three draft laws, which will now be sent to the Council of Ministers.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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