Cambodia: ICJ condemns new draft laws that infringe on judicial independence

The ICJ today condemned the decision of the Constitutional Council to uphold three draft “judicial reform laws” that infringe on the independence of the judiciary, in contravention of international standards and Cambodia’s constitution.

In a Briefing Paper released today, the ICJ highlights how the three bills fall short of Cambodia’s international and constitutional obligations to guarantee the independence of the judiciary.

The draft laws are: the draft Law on the Organization of the Courts, the draft Law on the Statute of Judges and Prosecutors, and the draft Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.

The Constitutional Council, created under Article 136 of the Constitution, vets the constitutionality of laws adopted and reviewed by Parliament. All decisions of the Constitutional Council are final.

“These draft bills passed through the legislative process in a rush, despite repeated calls from civil society for a delay to allow sufficient consultations,” said Kingsley Abbott, an International Legal Adviser at ICJ. “These bills don’t ‘reform’ the judiciary in any positive way, instead they actually hurt the judiciary’s independence and its status as a separate and equal branch of the Cambodian government.”

All three draft bills infringe on the independence of the judiciary, a principle that is guaranteed under Articles 51 and 128 of the Constitution.

Further, the bills also fall below international standards, including Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party.

The bills also fall below safeguards for the independence of the judiciary set out in the United Nations Basic Principles on Independence of Judiciary, and the Beijing Statement of Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The ICJ’s Briefing Paper notes four key concerns: encroachment by the Executive branch on areas properly reserved to the Judiciary under the principle of separation of powers; the Executive branch’s undue control over the judiciary’s budgetary finance and administrative matters; the restrictions on the rights of judges and prosecutors to freedom of expression; and the lack of adequate safeguards of judicial independence in selection, promotion, removal and disciplinary procedures for judges.

“These draft laws, once enacted, will significantly harm the rule of law and independence of judges in Cambodia,” said Abbott.

The draft laws are now in its final legislative stage and will become law once they receive the King’s signature.

The briefing paper can be downloaded here: Cambodia-ICJ condemns new draft laws-Advocacy-analysis brief-2014 (full text in pdf)


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