The Council of Ministers on Friday approved three draft laws on judicial reform, clearing the way for them to move into parliament and prompting calls from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) not to pass the legislation without the participation of the opposition.
The laws – which deal with the organisation and functioning of the courts and the Supreme Council of Magistracy, and with the roles of prosecutors and judges – have languished for years without approval and drawn sharp criticism for a lack of transparency regarding their contents.
In a statement yesterday, CCHR trial-monitoring project coordinator Duch Piseth expressed concern, saying the laws “have the potential to either enhance [the judiciary’s] independence, efficiency and transparency or, on the contrary, further strengthen the influence of and control by the executive”.
“The overall lack of transparency surrounding the laws makes me worry and wonder what the Royal Government of Cambodia is trying to hide,” he added.
Despite the call for opposition participation, senior ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that the National Assembly would move forward with the adoption process – which he estimated would take about two months – with or without the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which is still boycotting parliament.
“I and other legal experts from the CPP have enough experience in the National Assembly, therefore civil society must not take this opportunity to chain us up [and keep us] from functioning,” Yeap said.
CNRP officials could not be reached for comment.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, who was one of the few to see earlier drafts of the three laws, said yesterday that he was unsurprised by Yeap’s aversion to civil society input and warned that the drafts he saw would give the executive branch – via the Ministry of Justice – an inordinate amount of power.
“It’s the same structure,” he said, likening the draft laws to a fresh paint job on an old car. “The driver is the same, the engine is the same, only it’s a new colour. So do you believe that it’s improved?”