The National Assembly Monday approved a series of amendments to the Untac Penal Code, including mandatory sentencing provisions aimed at preventing corrupt judges from abusing the judicial system.
Lawmakers voted 90 to 5 for the nine-article bill, which sets stricter penalties of 20 years to life for serious crimes such as homicides, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng praised the parliamentarians for the vote, saying it will strengthen the Cambodian justice system. “This was a great gesture and a timely response to build up security and justice,” he said.
During Monday’s debate, Funcinpec lawmaker Khlok Buddhi argued against the mandatory sentencing provision, saying it would rob Cambodian judges of the discretion to justly decide cases.
The provision says judges “must not” reduce, increase or suspend sentences for serious crimes.
“Preventing judges from using their own judgment severely [restricts] their discretionary rights, as given in many democratic countries,” he said. “This makes the Cambodian court a machine court, not a court of judges.”
Judges need to weigh the facts carefully in each case, Khlok Buddhi said, rather than imposing a blanket sentence for crimes in which the circumstances may be quite different.
Sar Kheng responded that mandatory sentencing was necessary to prevent judges from issuing corrupt or partisan rulings.
In several sweeping amendments to the penal code, the legislature last week passed a provision permitting courts to levy fines of about $128 rather than the $256 against witnesses who agree to testify but back out before the trial.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy abstained from voting, saying he was unhappy after his request for stricter penalties of 20 years to life in prison for raping children under 14 or pregnant women was rejected.
Pregnant women who are raped sometimes miscarry, he said, which would equate to intentional killing.
Other lawmakers said that eventuality could be prosecuted under the “intentional killing” provision of the penal code.