The Cambodian legal system has evolved from unwritten customary law to statutory law. Scholars have classified the Cambodian legal development into two phases, namely Ancient Law and Modern Law (1). The former refers to the unwritten customary law from the Funan Period to the Angkor Period (2) whereas the latter refers to the codification of Cambodian laws from 1336 to the present (3). Before French colonization (1863), Cambodia was governed by customary rules (4) based on consensus. From 1863 to 1953, the Cambodian legal and judicial systems were based almost entirely on the French system. This system had a strong impact not merely on the law and legal education system but also on Cambodian lawyers, prosecutors, judges and bureaucrats until 1975. From April 1975 to 7 January 1979, the dictatorial proletariat regime of the Khmer Rouge eradicated the entire legal system, existing laws, judiciary and government’s institutions. Judges, lawyers and other legal professionals were the target of execution.
On January 7th, 1979 Cambodia was liberated by the United Front of National Salvation and Solidarity of Cambodia with Vietnamese Assistance from the Democratic Kampuchea known as the Khmer Rouge Regime. At that time the country faced a severe shortage of lawyers and laws. Michael Vickery (5) described this situation as a complete legal vacuum. The legal system that emerged during these years was heavily influenced by the Vietnamese system. Major legislation promulgated during this period, included Cambodia’s presently applicable contract law. During the period of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1991 to 1993, a number of laws, including criminal, and a judicial law and a press law, were enacted. Under the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, UNTAC started its mission in Cambodia in order to help organize the general election and form a legitimate government. In cooperation with the Supreme National Council (SNC), a policy making body that represents the Cambodian four factions at home and abroad, these laws were adopted.
The current legal system is a hybrid legal system, which is an amalgamation of Cambodian customs, the French based legal system which is an influence from the French colonization period and the common law system which was an impact of foreign aid assistance to the legal and judicial reform in Cambodia The development partners that provided assistance to the legal and judicial reform in Cambodia were: AUSAID, ADB, CANADA, DANIDA, EU, Finland, FRANCE, ILO, JICA, GTZ, Netherland, OHCHR, SIDA, UNDP, UK, USAID, World Bank, (See Council for Legal and Judicial Reform, http://www.cljr.gov.kh/)
(1) Royal University of Law and Economics and Cooperation and Cultural Activities of French Embassy, Introduction Au Droit Cambodgien, p.7
(2) Id, pp.8-15
(3) Id, pp.16-25
(4) KONG Phallack, Hok Sophea, Tep Navy, Oeurn Borarorth, The ASEAN Legal Systems, Faculty of Law and Economics, Phnom Penh, 1998, p.12
(5) Michael Vickery, Kampuchea: Politics, Economics and Society, London, 1986. There were only ten law graduates including 5 judges remained in the country (Proclamation on January 10, 1979). Vietnam occupied Cambodia from 1979-1989