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August 18, 2011

A New Civil Code for Cambodia is Readied as Another Major Milestone is Reached

PhotoThe project held training on Immovable registration in Japan earlier this year

Cambodia will achieve a major milestone in a years-long effort to rebuild its shattered physical, legal and judicial infrastructure with the introduction of a new civil code in December.

During decades of civil war the country was virtually destroyed but since a peace agreement was reached in the early 1990s Japan has been actively helping to rehabilitate roads, bridges, hospitals and schools and equally importantly Cambodia’s legal and judicial sectors which were largely swept away during the conflict.

The application of the new civil code in late December is another important milestone in work begun in 1999 when the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) began assisting Cambodia to draft a new civil code and code of civil procedure.

They govern matters relating to property, family relationships and succession and the procedures to be followed in each case.

JICA sent experts to the country to provide trainings, hold seminars and discuss proposed draft laws.

Normally, JICA ensures that local counterparts quickly establish a leadership role and overall ‘ownership’ of such projects but because so few lawyers survived Cambodia’s genocide a different approach was necessary.
Legal experts in Japan shaped initial drafts which were then examined by a Cambodian working group before both parties jointly developed thousands of individual articles, one by one.

The Cambodians eventually gained enough experience to lead the draft work on ancillary laws now in their third phase of development within the JICA project which runs through 2012.

A civil code and a code of civil procedure were also shaped, approved and proclaimed. The code of civil procedure began to be applied in 2007 and recently King Norodom Sihamoni signed a law covering application of the civil code in December.

PhotoMock trial in the training project for judges and prosecutors

A related JICA project is helping to train a new generation of judges and prosecutors. Japanese legal experts have trained new intakes of instructors and established a curriculum and new textbooks for Cambodia’s Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors.

JICA expert Emiko Nishimura said the country was so lacking in skilled experts that when work began “There was almost no one who could teach the new civil code and code of civil procedure.”

JICA experts at times had to directly train new would-be judges and prosecutors.

Eventually, however, newly trained graduates eventually took up teaching duties themselves from the Japanese.

This ‘training of the trainers” will contribute to developing a new pool of young experts, according to Nishimura who added “We would like to continue such assistance and allow the cycle to continue so that newly trained people can help raise the levels of the whole juridical system.”

Japan's own legal and judicial systems were comprehensively overhauled during modernization at the end of the 19th century with the selective introduction of sections of French, German and English law. Following its defeat in World War II, various American concepts were also introduced to meet Japan's specific needs.

In working with Cambodia and other nations such as Viet Nam, Nepal and China on civil and commercial and company law, JICA has applied the same flexible approaches to ensure that any new legislation reflect the individual needs of each country.


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