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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 10 years on, legal aid group still has much work ahead

10 years on, legal aid group still has much work ahead

10 years on, legal aid group still has much work ahead

While a majority of those facing court cases must still do so without legal

help, Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC) has seen some positive changes during its

decade of operation.

Speaking at a press conference on July 14 - the

organization's 10th anniversary - members relived some of those past victories

and remained optimistic in their assessments of the work that still lies before

them.

"Eleven years ago when I first came to Phnom Penh there were no

lawyers, no bar association - there were just legal defenders," said Francis

James, a co-founder of LAC and current board member. "Today there is a Bar

Association, 350 lawyers. There are problems, there are challenges, but there

has been progress."

LAC is a non-profit, non-government,

Khmer-administered association of lawyers dedicated to the legal needs of

Cambodia's poor in all types of civil and criminal matters. The Board is

composed of international lawyers, human rights activists and Cambodian

nationals.

In its 10 years, LAC has provided lawyers to Cambodia's poor

in 6,639 criminal cases and 1,956 civil cases.

Over the years LAC has

changed their approach from representing poor individuals, to establishing four

specialized units to deal with cases involving land, labor, juveniles and

forestry.

"Our original intent was for one lawyer to defend one person

that had been arrested," James said. "By now selecting thematic lines, LAC can

affect whole areas as opposed to case-by-case representation."

In those

10 years LAC has also expanded from Phnom Penh to include a network of

provincial offices. There are now lawyers in eight provinces and cities,

including two new offices, one in Banteay Meanchey and another in Ratanakkiri.

James said that a considerable portion of LAC's resources are now put

toward land disputes because they can have an impact on whole villages.

"We are able to settle most of our cases," said Ouk Vandeth, director of

LAC, "We are unable to win only 5 percent of the cases when they relate to the

rich and the powerful."

Vandeth said many laws still need to be

instituted, including a new criminal and civil code, laws on domestic violence,

ethics of judges, and anti-corruption.

"We have great concern because of

the existence of corruption, and some judges and prosecutors are not

professional," said Vandeth, "We do commend an attempt to make judicial reforms

by the Ministry of Justice."

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