The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has expressed deep concern over controversial judicial reforms which could provide an excessive transfer of power from the judiciary to the executive in the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia.

To discuss the draft laws in the context of domestic law provisions, and international standards on judicial independence, the IBAHRI hosted a panel event in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at which the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, provided her expert opinion.

The three draft laws of concern are: the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy; the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors of the Kingdom of Cambodia and lastly; the Law on the Organization of the Courts – which will see the Minister of Justice assume wide-reaching powers over the judiciary and prosecution services.

Gabriela Knaul, who has been the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges and Lawyers since 2009 detailed the nature of the laws, ‘They deal with the structure of the court - how it works, how it should function, what are the borderlines between the powers, what kind of guarantees the beneficiaries of the justice system should have. This kind of law regulates the appointments process, the transfers, suspension, and disciplinary proceedings against judges. It deals with matters relating to enhancing transparency, the accountability of the judicial system. It defines and makes clear what's the role of judges and the prosecutors in order to avoid confusion on the roles of each one.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair Sternford Moyo commented, ‘The Royal Kingdom of Cambodia’s judiciary’s ability to exercise its duties free from Executive influence is a right protected under Article 128 of the Cambodian Constitution and further enshrined in Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; in Principles 1 to 7 of the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary; in the Singhvi Declaration on the Independence of Justice; and in the Beijing Statement of Principles. The proposed legislative changes will undermine all of these legal instruments and the negative impact on the independence of the judiciary is of deep concern to the IBAHRI.’ He added, ‘The IBAHRI recommends that the Cambodian Parliament assumes the vital role of encouraging broad public consultation on the legislation to ensure the important and basic principles of judicial independence, neutrality and the separation of powers are upheld in Cambodia.’

The discussion, Cambodia’s Draft Judicial Laws, took place Tuesday 15 July 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Participating alongside UN Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul, was Piseth Duch, Trial Monitoring Coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. IBAHRI Programme Lawyer Nadia Hardman moderated the discussion.