Saturday, July 16, 2005

Prime Minister's 'iron fist' campaign has judges, prosecutors in cross hairs

By Cheang Sokha, Sam Rith and Timothy Wheeler

The Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM) are continuing to review a list of court officials who may face expulsion if they are judged guilty of wrongdoings, said Hanrot Raken, a member of the SCM.

Phnom Penh municipal court judge Kong Sarith and deputy prosecutor Siem Sok Aun were sacked this week, according to Ministry of Justice officials.

In addition, judges Ham Mengse and Hing Thirith, and deputy prosecutor Khut Sopheang have been suspended for one year, while Phnom Penh municipal court chief prosecutor Ouk Savouth was given a warning.

The decision to expel a judge and a prosecutor, and suspend two more judges and a prosecutor, is the first time that the SCM has punished court staff since the council's honorary head, King Norodom Sihamoni, came to power in October, Raken said.

"The SCM took about one month to make a decision about the punishment of these judges and prosecutors," said Raken, "The SCM decision cannot be appealed."

Judge Kong Sarith told the Post on July 14 that he has heard rumors about his expulsion but has not yet received any official word from the SCM.

"If [SCM] expelled me, it would be an injustice to me," said Sarith. "I am shocked after hearing this information."

The other court officials involved were not available for comment.

Raken attended a July 11 meeting with the SCM - presided over by King Sihamoni - in which they discussed punishing the judges and prosecutors as well as rotating the placement of judges and prosecutors every four years so that they will avoid creating networks of power that may foster corruption or bias.

"If we talk about procedure, the decision is correct because it was made by the Supreme Council of Majesty that has the King and other members participating in making decisions," said Ouk Vandeth, director of Legal Aid of Cambodia.

"If we depend on law, the decision was not correct because laws pertaining to the ethics of judges have not been established yet," Vandeth said.

Raken said the real problem was a shortage of staff at the courts.

"In Cambodia there are 200 judges and prosecutors. This amount is not enough. We need double the judges and prosecutors to handle the upcoming cases at the moment," Raken said.

"The changing of judges and prosecutors will affect the judges and prosecutors that take their place because they will have to re-investigate cases and that it a waste of time," he said.

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