During the National Assembly’s final session before national elections are held in July, opposition lawmakers on Friday slammed the country’s judges for delegating investigative work to their clerks and criticized judicial police for incorrectly interpreting civil cases as criminal cases.
During the session between lawmakers from the ruling CPP and the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), opposition lawmaker Ket Khy said police often write reports sent to the court that bring about criminal charges for suspects who have only committed a minor offense. He also said that police often do not allow suspects to have a lawyer present during questioning.
Continuing his criticism, Mr. Khy said the country’s judges sometimes fail to investigate cases altogether and only investigate inculpatory evidence against suspects.
“Young judges tend to carry out these actions, but old judges do not because they always have the excuse that they are very busy and let the clerks question the suspects. This is wrong,” Mr. Khy told the assembly floor. “The older judges do not investigate after an incident takes place in order to find out if police reporting is true or not.”
Mr. Khy also said that the amount of time suspects spend in pretrial detention was still far too long and that suspects found guilty of a misdemeanor will often spend longer than their actual sentence in jail.
Responding to Mr. Khy, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said he largely agreed with the points raised by the CNRP lawmaker.
“In short, I agree with what His Excellency Keth Khy said,” he said. “We are assessing all these matters.”
Rights groups have often accused the courts of charging their workers with incitement—a criminal offense—after they help villagers organize demonstrations or inform people of their rights as Cambodian citizens.
One very public example of the court increasing the suspect’s charge from a civil case to a criminal case involved Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, who was found guilty in 2009 of disinformation over claims he made that electric lighting set up inside the Angkor Wat complex could damage the temple.
The Court of Appeal in 2011 upheld the verdict, but in a twist, changed the charge to incitement, which carried a tougher jail sentence. Mr. Sonn is now living in exile in France.
Hy Sophea, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, told the assembly that lawyers were only prevented from meeting their clients during the first 24 hours of questioning, as is stated in the Criminal Procedure Code.
“If they meet their clients before that, there is too much time spent talking, and this can waste the time of the police,” he said. Mr. Sophea also denied Mr. Khy’s claims that judges fail to investigate exculpatory evidence.
“Investigating judges do not only look into evidence of guilt as portrayed by Mr. Khy,” he said.
Also during Friday’s debate, the National Assembly amended four articles of the Penal Code to provide a clearer definition of the responsibilities of investigating judges.