PHNOM PENH —
Rights groups and others say the Constitutional Council should scrap three laws on judicial reform that passed through the National Assembly in May.
The Constitutional Council is the final arbiter of lawmaking, interpreting the constitution and laws passed by the Assembly and Senate.
All three laws passed with little debate in May, but critics say they do not meet international standards and will not restore the public’s faith in a judicial system widely seen as corrupt and politically biased.
“If they don’t dismiss it, they should review some articles that are unconstitutional and send it back for amendments,” Am Sam Ath, senior monitor for the rights group Licadho, told “Hello VOA” Friday. “If there are no amendments, the laws will make the court system worse than before.”
Experts say the new laws give the Ministry of Justice, which is under the executive branch, control over the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which is supposed to be an independent body overseeing the work of judges and other court staff.
“Our constitution clearly separates the three [government] bodies,” Am Sam Ath said. “But if one person holds a position in government and also in the court system, where can we see this independence?”
Cambodia’s courts are notoriously corrupt, with judges and prosecutors often bending under political pressure. In the past, there were no laws to ensure their independence.
“But after seeing these three drafts laws, we, civil society, feel disappointed,” Am Sam Ath said. “These laws are to give power to the executive body to control the courts.”
The three laws were also passed in haste, via an incomplete Assembly that is without lawmakers-elect from the opposition, who have boycotted since July 2013 and elections they say were marred by fraud.
But ruling government officials have defended the laws, saying they are based on judicial systems in France and Japan.
Koerth Rith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, said the new laws would make the Supreme Council of Magistracy “representative.” “It ensures balance between the lower and higher courts,” he said.
The Constitutional Council must examine the draft laws before they are sent to King Norodom Sihamoni to be signed into law.
Uth Chhourn, a member of the council, said members are examining the drafts but have not made any conclusions yet. “We are taking into consideration their suggestions,” he said. “We haven’t dismissed them.”