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Court Reform Is Necessary

By: The Mirror Posted: July-26-2010 in
The Mirror

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 674

“Recently, the Ministry of Justice issued a special letter to warn court officials not to do improper activities as this might invite public criticism. In a letter dated 16 July 2010, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Ang VongVathana, wrote that officials of the Ministry have received many complaints from the general public accusing court officials, especially, clerks, without giving their names. The Minister added in the letter that the role of clerks is to take notes, to keep the complaint documents, and to fulfill their role properly according to the legal procedures, neutral and non-biased.

“The Minister of Justice warns in the letter that clerks must not be biased towards any sides during the hearing process and they must follow the orders of judges and of prosecutors in order to gain trust in the judicial system from the public. Such a warning from the Minister of Justice towards clerks is new, but he seems not to consider the judges and prosecutors in the provinces and cities who also commit improper acts.

“Regarding the above issue, the chief of cabinet of the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Sam Prochea Meaneth, said that the letter was sent to all municipal courts in the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Ministry aims at all court officials, particularly at clerks who work with lawsuits of citizens. Clerks at the courts do not have the power to pass judgments in any cases. The decision by the Minister of Justice to issue this letter was not because of any special cases or accusations about wrongdoings, but it was issued as part of judicial reforms.

“Observers of the court system in Cambodia said that the letter of the Minister, dated 16 July 2010, deals only with one part of the problem; it warns only clerks who may be creating problems. But judges and prosecutors, who had committed corruption, like by changing a case from wrong to right, are not warned by the Ministry of Justice and admonished to implement their roles appropriately. Corruption in the court system can result from collusion among clerks, judges, and prosecutors. Therefore to put the burden only on clerks is not proper, because it disregards the irregularities committed by some corrupt judges and prosecutors towards poor citizens.

“Officials of non-government organizations said that they often heard of complaints from citizens expressing their disappointment about the courts and especially about clerks. Non-government organizations said that when citizens have money, clerks seem to care about their complaints, but if they do not have money, clerks discriminate against them and delay their cases for a long time before starting to work on them. The issue of the letter of the Minister is a positive sign, but it is still not covering the whole truth. The most important thing is that the Ministry of Justice makes the citizens trust in the court system of Cambodia.

“Many citizens have already been victimized by judges and prosecutors who colluded with powerful officials to grab their land. In some cases, the corruption of judges and prosecutors has been revealed publicly by citizens, like in land disputes in Ratanakiri. But in the end, the Ministry of Justice did not take any legal action against corrupt those judges and prosecutors, but just assigned them to work as judges and prosecutors in other provinces. Such dealings make citizens to distrust the court system, and they curse powerful officials who grab their land.

“At present, the court system of Cambodia is being criticized by national and international circles, accusing it to be a tool of the ruling party that serves only the rich and the powerful. But for poor victimized citizens as well as for politicians of the opposition, the courts do not seem to provide them justice according to the law. Thus, judicial reform is necessary to avoid that citizens lose trust in the institution of the courts. In the meantime, the international community and the donors must encourage the Cambodian government to speed up reforming the court system, as it had promised. Clerks, judges, and prosecutors, who commit corruption by using law for personal benefit, must be punished according to the law.” Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.17, #3940, 24-25.7.2010

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 674 - Saturday, 24.7.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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