Ministry to have judges consult in ‘controversial’ cases

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Mon, 21 March 2016, by Mech Dara

A meeting of judicial officials from around the country, led by Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, on Friday agreed “in principle” to have judges consult with ministry “experts” before ruling in controversial cases, an official said.

The recommendation was made at a meeting of Cambodia’s municipal and provincial prosecutors and court directors to discuss the use of pre-trial detention in land dispute cases.

The officials came together in the wake of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to personally order the release of two women detained for violating a court order related to a land dispute in Kampong Speu.

The government has denied the premier’s actions amount to interference in the judiciary.

Yesterday, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the ministry would develop a “consultation mechanism” to work with judges – who are independent under Cambodia’s constitution – in “controversial” and “social justice” cases.

He also rejected that this was a form of executive interference.

Though the ministry experts can provide an opinion on what to do, “the decision is up to the court, which has independent power… this is a consultation mechanism in order to discuss clearly before making a decision.”

He also said the meeting was about finding a “common policy” when it came to the use of pre-trial detention, which has long been slammed by rights groups as excessive.

He said judges should “consider clearly” the use of pre-trial detention, strike a “balance”, and ensure the law doesn’t overly burden the vulnerable.

He claimed land disputes were often manipulated for political or financial gain, while some media misrepresented the issue because they either “don’t understand the court procedure” or intentionally “poison” coverage to cast the system in a negative light, he claimed.

In response, he said the ministry would develop a mechanism to ensure correct information is disseminated.

“For penal cases, the prosecutor can be spokesman and the prosecutor can also assign the deputy prosecutor to become spokesman to make the public understand and not to allow the media to poison the public first,” Malin said.

He continued: “Or the court administration can elaborate about how the procedure works… a judge cannot speak to or elaborate for the media, but they can provide information to the court official administration to act as his spokesman to explain to the public.”

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