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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - About face: CBA lowers Bar fees for KRT

About face: CBA lowers Bar fees for KRT

About face: CBA lowers Bar fees for KRT

The so-called "last remaining barrier" to adopting the internal rules of the

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was removed on April 27

when the Cambodian Bar Association council decided to reduced the fees charged

to foreign lawyers from $4,900 to a flat fee of $500.

The international

judges declared themselves "pleased" by the decision, their modest choice of

adjective perhaps inadvertently betraying the fact that questions still linger

over the future of the ECCC.

"We still have a couple of doubts about how

the fee will operate in practice," said Rupert Skilbeck, head of the defense

support section of the ECCC.

Foreign lawyers must now pay a $500 fee to

the CBA to get onto a list from which defendants will select the representation

of their choice.

But the ECCC has had a stop-start history. It still

faces constant questions over whether it will go ahead, and looks set to only

prosecute a handful of defendants. This raises the possibility that $500 will be

perceived as too large a sum to pay simply to be considered to represent a

client, said Skilbeck.

"Unfortunately, I believe most international

criminal lawyers will be put off by the $500 registration fee and may not apply

[as] they know the vast majority of lawyers on the list will not get a client,"

said Skilbeck. "But we have decided to start the process and see what happens.

Hopefully, I will be wrong and lawyers will apply."

The international

judges insistence that the CBA reduce their initial fee of $4,900, which was

seen as a "prohibitive entry cost," aimed to eliminate the possibility of

defendants launching appeals on the basis that they were not afforded council of

choice. But if in six months time, only two or three lawyers have paid to be on

the list, defendants may still be able to employ this tactic to appeal, said

Skilbeck.

"The judges are confident that the $500 fee will not be seen as

a barrier to lawyers wishing to take part in the work of the ECCC," said Peter

Foster, spokesman for United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trial

(UNAKRT). "As for what might happen in six months, we will just have to wait

until then to see how things develop."

Concerns also remain over whether

the fee will be applied to pro bono lawyers, said Skilbeck.

"It seems

strange if someone who is prepared to incur considerable personal expense and

forfeit their regular income to come and represent victims of the Khmer Rouge

must pay the CBA another $500," he said.

Nou Tharith, the CBA's new

deputy secretary general and spokesman, said that all foreign lawyers who come

to work for the ECCC, including those working pro bono, will have to pay the

$500 fee when they register. This was, he said, a decision taken by the CBA

council which reflected a general consensus of feeling among all members of the

organization.

"It is a very positive signal and it will definitely

facilitate our common work in the future," said international investigating

judge Marcel Lemonde on May 2. "The resident members of the review committee are

currently working on the very last fine tuning of the rules and discussing the

organization of the plenary."

A successful plenary will approve the

ECCC's draft internal rules and allow the court to move forward, said Lemonde.

It is likely that the plenary session will now be held before the end of May, he

said.

The need to restart progress at the ECCC was one of the key

factors that prompted the CBA council's decision to drop its fees for foreign

lawyers, said Tharith.

"We want the ECCC to proceed smoothly," he said.

"We were very concerned by the deadlock at the ECCC and felt we had to do

something to break it. Also, we are all very aware that the Cambodian people

have been waiting a long time for justice. We don't want to make them wait any

longer."

Theary Seng, director of the Center of Social Development,

welcomed the CBA's decision to reduce their fees, but cautioned that the ECCC

will most likely face further delays as the trial progresses.

"These

little bits of problems [such as the standoff over bar fees] are circumscribed

by the immovable political boundary that surround the entire process," she said.

"The trial will move forward but at a glacial pace and at the lowest possible

quality."

But at present, there seem to be no further obstacles to the

adoption of the court's essential internal rules, said Foster.

"There is

no way to tell what will happen in the future but the issue of the fees was the

only thing holding back the international judges from being able to take part in

the plenary," he said. "The draft internal rules have all been agreed in

principle, so we are confident that the next plenary will be see the rules

adopted. Holding the plenary at the end of May is our goal and everyone is

working to come up with the exact date as soon as possible."

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