An unnamed Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court clerk was suspended last month for unspecified misconduct, the Justice Ministry said yesterday. However the court said it was unaware of the matter.
The Justice Ministry last month admonished courts not to tolerate the use of clerks for judicial functions, something lawyers and NGOs have said could make much of the justice system’s caseload procedurally invalid.
Sam Pracheameanith, Cabinet chief for the Justice Ministry, said a court clerk in Preah Sihanouk had been suspended indefinitely but declined to provide more details.
“A clerk in Preah Sihanouk was suspended for doing something wrong,” he said.
Both Mong Monichariya, president of Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court and deputy president Kim Eng both said they were unaware of any such action.
“We have not received such a letter,” said Judge Monichariya, who is currently a reserve judge in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber.
Mr Pracheameanith said the Ministry of Justice had not received any complaints about the behavior of court clerks since a July 16 letter of warning from Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana. He said this showed the efficacy of the warning.
“I think that the justice minister’s letter is effective in strengthening the clerks’ discipline,” he said. “If there are complaints to us, [clerks] must be disciplined, such as by facing suspension or firing, depending to the extent of the misconduct.”
Mr Pracheameanith said there are adequate replacements if clerks were fired, retired or quit, as about 60 such officials are trained each year.
Sent to courts across the country, the justice minister’s letter said the ministry will take “most serious actions” to discipline those who commit “inappropriate deeds” and cited past complaints from the public.
Parties to court cases routinely describe the use of court clerks as intermediaries in the work of the court who perform functions legally reserved for prosecutors and judges, questioning suspects and even negotiating settlements.
Diep Kulam, manager of the Model Court Project for Legal Aid of Cambodia, was optimistic about the effect of Mr Vong Vathana’s letter, which he said he had not seen.
“I think that this is a good sign that the ministry issued a letter relating to the role of the court clerk,” Mr Kulam said. “I think that if the letter spreads to the court president and the court president takes action on his or her clerk, I think it will be better.”
But Mr Kulam also said the ministry should do more to improve the work of the courts, such as by holding meetings with court staff about their duties.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)