Top Court Returns Bar Case to Appeals Court

In a surprise move on Thurs­day, the Supreme Court annulled an Appeals Court decision on who is the rightful president of the Cambodian Bar Association and ordered the lower court to rehear the case.

“The [Appeals Court] trial should have been made in public, which is the Supreme Court’s reason for annulling the Appeals Court decision and returning it to be retried,” presiding Judge Dith Monty wrote in his verdict.

On Oct 16, legal aid lawyer Suon Visal defeated incumbent Ky Tech in a runoff election for the association’s presidency. The fol­lowing day, Ky Tech challenged the election and in a closed-door hearing on Nov 19, the Appeals Court threw out the election results and handed the presidency back to Ky Tech without explanation.

Suon Visal later appealed the decision.

Dith Monty’s verdict also stated that the Appeals Court broke the law by ordering Ky Tech to assume the presidency even though the case had been appeal­ed to the Supreme Court.

Thursday’s decision was celebrated by Suon Visal and his supporters, who said the move effectively returned the legal aid law­yer to the presidential position, if only until the next Appeals Court hearing.

“Even though the verdict did not appoint a winner, it recognizes the election results,” Suon Visal said.

The legal aid lawyer said he was not worried about the case being returned to the Appeals Court.

“It’s a lesson for the Appeal Court on how to work according to the law,” he said.

But Ky Tech was mystified by the verdict. He said it did not address his arguments, including whether interning lawyers should have been allowed to vote, even though they have been since 1995.

“Did they recognize my complaint as a legal one or not?” he asked, adding that he plans to follow through with the appeal and will not recognize Suon Visal as president. “There are a lot of loopholes in this verdict.”

Ky Tech said the decision, or lack thereof, would only create problems with donors and agencies who have called for the dispute to be resolved quickly.

“The judges will make the donors disappointed,” Ky Tech said. “The Supreme Court made a decision without thinking seriously about the bar’s interests.”

Matthew Rendall, legal adviser for the East-West Management Institute, said the decision puts the situation back to square one, with everyone waiting to see who will emerge as the proper president.

“It’s too bad the Supreme Court didn’t come forward with a decision,” Rendall said, adding that the institute will still be un­able to move forward with any pro­jects for fear that whoever signs off on the projects as president will not remain in power.

Emi Aizawa of JICA said her or­ga­nization is in a similar position because its contract to support the Law­yers Training Center expires at the end of August and cannot con­tinue without stability in the bar.

“What is at stake is what we will do after [August],” she said. “We’re not really able to proceed.”


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