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Assembly Passes First of Three Contentious Laws on Judicial Reform

More than 100 people Boeung Kak lake residents showed up in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to demonstrate, file photo.
Ruling party lawmakers at the National Assembly pass the first of three draft laws in judicial reform, defying an opposition boycott and ignoring calls for further review by outside legal experts.

The Law on the Organization of the Courts will put more power within the Ministry of Justice and was passed without critical questioning.

At least six lawmakers for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party spoke on the law’s behalf, saying it will enhance the judicial system.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Von urged Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana to ensure that judicial staff are properly paid, in order to ensure effective work for the public.

Lawmaker Sour Mara said the law was a new chance to “build a palace of justice for the people.”

The minister said the revised law would play a major role in judicial reform.

“That is why we have spent time and effort, not to give me more power or influence, but for better changes to the judicial system,” he said.

Critics of the law, like Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, say it will not turn around the reputation of a court that is widely seen as politically biased and corrupt toward powerful interests.

“If they believe the law will be effective in enhancing the Cambodian judicial,” he said, “maybe we can wait and see whether this law can restore its reputation, and whether people stop protesting outside the court.”

The lawmakers on Thursday also began to debate a draft law regulating judges and prosecutors. More discussion is slated for Friday.