Minister of Justice Koeut Rith has directed the formation of two committees to begin the process of establishing separate courts for commercial and labour disputes.
According to two decision letters issued on January 21, the committees are comprised of 20 members from the justice ministry, the Supreme Council of Magistracy, government delegates, the heads of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Appeal Court, and some other relevant officials.
To prepare for the establishment of the commercial and labour courts, these two committee members have been asked to prepare documentation and legal briefs to determine each court’s relationship to the lower courts and the higher courts, including the Appeal Court and Supreme Court.
The committees also have to conduct a study to determine the appropriate locations for these courts as well as examine any necessary changes to trade procedures and regulations.
The committees must determine the appropriate scope of each court’s jurisdiction regarding commercial or labour conflicts and they must organise a process of staffing for each court and prepare funds for getting this all underway along with any other duties as directed by the minister.
The decision letters grant the two committees the authority to invite specialists from the ministries, national and international institutions and the private sector for consultations when necessary.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the basis for the commercial and labour courts was established according to the law on the organisation and functioning of courts passed in late 2014, but these courts are just now being organised due to previous shortfalls in available resources for these projects.
“Now . . . we will see these two courts established and operational in accordance with the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Courts by the end of 2021,” he said.
He added that these two courts are not completely separate from the existing ones; they just divide areas of authority according to expertise. Judges are assigned according to their skills and knowledge and cases are divided according to type.
In the past, he said, commercial and labour dispute cases had been resolved in civil court.
“The establishment of a labour court is for increased efficiency in solving conflicts. The judges who preside over these conflicts will be those with the appropriate skills who can best take charge of those cases.
“They won’t need to deal with many other kinds of cases because that makes their job too difficult since they never have enough time to research the facts of all these different types of cases and the relevant points of law. This increased specialisation will also contribute to clearing the backlog of cases,” he said.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the creation of these specialised courts will help judges by letting them focus on one area of the law because having to preside over such a broad array of cases had hindered them from delivering justice at times.
Sam Oeun cautioned that if this court, once established, doesn’t function well and provide fair and equal justice then investors may be scared off and decide to spend their money elsewhere.
“The other side of that, though, is that if we make the commercial court [an institution] that is competent, neutral, independent and impartial it could then help a great deal in building confidence among investors,” Sam Oeun said.
Likewise, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) Moeun Tola supported the creation of the specialised courts. He said the courts will be welcomed if they help resolve conflicts based on the law and the wise use of judicial discretion.
Tola also said he was of the view that the law governing the courts and the selection of judges should be amended to eliminate corruption and to remove the influence of politics from the legal system.
“It is necessary to have specialised courts separate from the general court, and it is a good idea to create a labour court that is separate from the commercial court. But it is even more important to first reform the laws and practices that govern the whole judicial system,” he said.