The chief prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court has asked the Justice Ministry to find replacements for two judges and two deputy prosecutors punished by the Supreme Council of Magistracy last week for allegedly taking bribes.
“I have sent a report to the Ministry of Justice [asking for more officials] because there is a lot of work to do,” Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savouth said Sunday before referring further questions to the ministry.
Officials said last week the council decided to fire Judge Kong Sarith and Deputy Prosecutor Siem Sok Aun during its meeting Monday while judges Ham Mengse and Hing Thirith and Deputy Prosecutor Khut Sopheang have been suspended one year. Ouk Savouth was given a warning.
Cambodia’s beleaguered court system is currently overwhelmed with a backlog of thousands of cases, which Justice Ministry Secretary of State Kassie Neou put at about 30,000 last week.
Sao Sophary, the municipal court’s director, said Sunday that the firings and suspensions would create even more problems and delays in the court.
“Now there is more and more work,” he said. “Normally when three leave, three are replaced.”
One municipal court official who asked not to be named said the municipal court alone has about 2,000 civil and criminal cases that need to be heard.
One question, however, is where those replacements, if and when they are appointed, will come from. Some observers have said they believe recruiting judges from other courts will leave corruption intact.
Tuot Lux, another secretary of state for the Justice Ministry, said Sunday the ministry had received Ouk Savouth’s request and that the ministry is considering replacements.
However, he said more officials are needed in the country.
“Now we have about 200 judges and prosecutors,” he said. “According to our estimation, we need 400 to handle the present situation.”
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana could not be reached for comment Sunday.
But Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the real problem isn’t a shortage of personnel but the country’s lack of courtrooms in which to hear the cases.
While Sok Sam Oeun praised the decision to discipline the judges and prosecutors, he questioned the process—apparently without a hearing or submissions by those involved—by which they were investigated.
“In these six cases I didn’t hear of any trial, we only heard how they will be punished,” he said.
The court official, who asked not to be named, said judges and prosecutors are worried about the government’s clampdown and increasing power over the judiciary. The official said some feel they are being targeted unfairly for the problems in the judicial system.
“All of us are worried about the iron fist,” he said, referring to Hun Sen’s pledge to combat corruption in the courts. “Judicial reform is not only the courts, but police and everyone.”