Prosecutor Asks Ministry To Fill Judiciary Posts

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.”


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