Sunday,2007-07-22: What Will the Announced Changes in the Court System Bring?

Posted on 23 July 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 517 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 517

The Ministry of Justice had announced that new procedures will be enforced from 13 July in Phnom Penh, and from 27 July in the provinces countrywide, defining some procedures which the courts and the judicial authorities will have to implement, to improve the quality of the courts in Cambodia – an important measure within the different reform programs of the government.

The problem is an enormous one, and the necessary improvements cannot be achieved by different procedures only, though these play also a crucial role.

Two reports during the week show the depths of the problem:

  1. The first example relates to the efforts by a financially powerful company trying to grab hundreds of hectares of land by filling in part of the Boeng Kobsrov Lake. And this, in spite of the fact that several months ago it had been publicly announced that such efforts would not be tolerated – as similar efforts, to sell and buy part of the lake, were also going on at that time.
  2. But the following two examples are in a way even more serious, because those who are officially appointed by the state to monitor that the laws are observed violate them:
    • The attempt to turn public property – part of the Boeng Thom Lake in Kandal – into private property is also promoted by some officials at the district and the provincial level, colluding with businesspeople. The officials, who should by their very position watch out that the public interest is kept according to the law, violate their own basic duties.
    • A gunman, who illegally kept a gun with himself not for the official military duty for which he is entitled to carry a gun, used it to shoot at a person at a restaurant – but it was reported that he would not be detained by the relevant authorities, because of higher level intervention and – instead of applying the law – money had been given to the victim.

It is encouraging to read that, insisting on the application of relevant laws, the Minister of Meteorology and Water Resources will take care that the Kob Srov and the Boeung Thom lakes will have to be brought back to their initial state, and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor is appealing against the release of the gunman.

Not only some newly formulated procedures are being applied – but recourse to the law is sought to establish justice. And in all these cases recourse to the law is sought in spite of the fact that there seem to be stronger or higher levels of persons involved – who are now being reminded by these actions that nobody is above the law.

During the same week it was also reported that Oknha Tan Seng Hak was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment for attempting to assassinate police officials – another example of court action against a person who, some time ago, wielded public financial power.

There will be more reason for public confidence that the courts in Cambodia will face less and less criticism, if the new procedures will lead to more transparency. Even the Father King has, in the past, questioned some court decisions which were taken, without providing a place for defense witnesses to get a proper hearing when they provide different information than the one used in court, which used confessions – which the accused withdrew during the court procedure, claiming they were made under duress.

The sentencing of the former Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissioner, who is now in jail based on former convictions, was sentenced for an additional imprisonment, accused of having kept 30,000 fake US dollars notes – which he claimed were placed by those who raided his house. There were no reports about details of the fake notes, nothing about any evidence of fingerprints on them, or about their present whereabouts – and the judge needed only 10 minutes to deliberate, before he announced the verdict of an additional imprisonment of 14 years for the accused, and of 13 years for his wife – on what evidence? – who has been abroad for many months.

Maybe the new court procedures will lead to more transparency: transparency about the very court procedures.

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