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Justice system reform making steady long-term progress: official

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Chin Malin speaking at a press conference on "Progress in the field of human rights and justice in Cambodia", which was organised by the Government Spokesperson Unit and held on June 29 at the Council of Ministers. Heng Chivoan

Justice system reform making steady long-term progress: official

The Ministry of Justice is developing and implementing strategies for both legal and judicial reforms, according to its secretary of state and spokesman Chin Malin.

Malin was speaking at a press conference on "Progress in the field of human rights and justice in Cambodia", which was organised by the Government Spokesperson Unit and held on June 29 at the Council of Ministers.

Malin said the government's judicial reform programme was meant to ensure the pursuit of justice in the legal system, which is a top priority.

He noted, however, that the reform work was not something that could be accomplished overnight but a long-term effort that must be continuously maintained over time to achieve just outcomes in accordance with the law.

"Thus far, we are still in the process of launching our programme of legal and judicial system reforms. If you're wondering when these reforms will be completed, the answer is that we won't stop the work of reforming our system as long as there are problems within the justice system in need of correction.

“Perhaps one day we will find there are no longer any problems whatsoever and then further reforms may no longer be necessary. But as of today, we accept that there are problems in the field of justice and so we need to put in place legal and judicial system reform programmes and continue to implement them to improve the system."

Malin said the reform was focused on three strategies. The first was to review the old existing laws that were being implemented to see if they met the needs of the people and social reality.

The second was to develop a new legal framework and policy on what the Cambodia justice system were lacking to ensure legal justice for the people.

The third was to evaluate the effectiveness of the law implementation, in which some law were implemented and some others were implemented for just one period and then stopped.

"We would discuss what were lacking and why those laws were not implemented.

"The civil society organisations that are part of the technical working group on legal and judicial system reforms have been engaged in discussions with us many times on these matters. I am the co-chair of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia and we have also discussed a lot of issues related to this reform programme,” he said.

He explained that the first strategy involves reviewing, studying and researching the laws that are presently in force under the four legal codes of the Kingdom: The Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure and the Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.

He said the review process has been going on for the past 10 years and carried out with support from international experts. By way of example, he noted that the Civil Code and its procedures were examined with the help of legal experts from Japan.

He said the Japanese brought their experiences and insights regarding the implementation of civil law in Japan to help with review of the laws in Cambodia, and experts from France had similarly given a great deal of support with the review of the Criminal Code and its procedures.

"We are reviewing all of it because while some of the regulations might be good in general, they have to make sense in the context of the society in which they are implemented, so they must be good for this country specifically.

"In some cases, there were regulations in our legal codes which weren't being successfully implemented because Cambodia's social context meant they weren't suitable for our country and society at this time. Even law enforcement officials will have different views on the use of words, phrases and the mindset of these laws," Malin said.

He said the ministry’s technical working group has set up a joint commission to study and evaluate the legal codes. The group started by evaluating what problems existed with these four codes.

"They were tasked with finding out why some provisions in the code were not yet enforceable and how to make these four codes more applicable to our society in order to meet our needs in the context of the realities of Cambodian society," he said. "This work involves reviewing key principles related to the justice system in order to meet the needs of the people."

Malin said the second strategy was the organisation of new regulations and building a political framework to regulate and ensure the staffing of Cambodia’s judiciary.

He said they had determined that the laws and policies necessary for sustaining the judiciary were notably lacking, with the specific example being the work done this year on preparing laws and statutes regarding three of the main support professions in the judiciary sector – court clerks, bailiffs and notaries.

He noted that judges, prosecutors and lawyers already had professional regulations for managing their work that were well-established, whereas for the very necessary but less high-profile jobs such as clerks, bailiffs and notaries, there are no laws currently governing them.

“That’s why our team is working to prepare draft laws on these three professions with the expectation that they will be completed by late 2022. The ministry is also preparing draft laws and policies regarding notaries working outside of the courtroom, especially for the mediation of disputes at the grassroots level,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, acknowledged that the justice system was a tricky issue to address.

“As a civil society organisation, we want to see a roust justice system that can restore public trust.”

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