Ly Chantola was elected President for the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) for the 13th mandate on October 16, 2020.

The Post’s Voun Dara interviewed Chantola to learn about BAKC’s progress over the past two years in view of key achievements and future direction, particularly its collaboration with government institutions and relevant units. The BAKC regards this collaboration as a contribution to society in defending women, girls and the poor.

During the two years that you’ve been leading the BAKC, what do you consider your biggest achievements?

During my tenure as the President of BAKC, I want to mention the important things we have done. In the last two years, the BAKC has achieved a lot, including internal work of the association for the legal profession and the work to help the government and society as a whole.

In terms of work in the legal profession, since I took over, we have made a slight adjustment to our structure to make the association’s internal work more efficient. We have provided services to our colleagues who need services from the BAKC, which we do quickly. In general, when a request is made by lawyers, we do it within two days, at most.

For example, if they want to apply for a certificate or request to open a legal office, the assistance is fast. Sometimes lawyers need other services. They can apply via Telegram or WhatsApp first and send the original request later. However, we will expedite their application process.

How does the provision of defence services to the poor work?

This is an important task in the mechanism of offering protection to the poor. Our BAKC is actively involved in providing legal representation for the poor who might be alleged offenders in criminal cases, misdemeanours or crime. In addition, we are actively involved in helping women and girls who have been victims of domestic violence, rape or sexual harassment. We do this work in collaboration with the Cambodian National Council for Women (CNCW).

In February 2021, I also introduced another policy on free consultation and defence for the poor, garment workers, as well as women and girls who have been victimised. We provided legal representation for them in both criminal and civil cases. We do not charge a fee.

Given the current digital age, what are the types of activities BAKC performs on social media?

For almost two years now, we have strengthened the mechanism to disseminate information about BAKC’s activities and the mechanism to receive information such as requests for BAKC’s intervention from our colleagues.

We have also expanded our work activities on the Bar Association’s website and social media, as well as set up Telegram groups for members of the association so that we can receive information or requests from our colleagues.

As such, we have seen our colleagues with problems or requests using these mechanisms to communicate with the BAKC and we too have been able to intervene or solve problems for them quickly.

Recently, we established a forum for lawyers to share issues. At the forum, we highlighted the progress and direction of the Bar Association. We listened to concerns and challenges in their professional practices, communication with the courts, court clerks and the work, justice police or authorities. If they have any problem, they can raise them with the lawyers.

What has the BAKC done to enhance its capabilities?

We accomplished the provision of training and strengthening of professional skills for our lawyers. Although we encountered problems due to Covid-19, we managed to overcome it and have held many workshops.

The Bar Association has organised 11 online seminars, and we have collaborated with relevant professional institutions, such as the Arbitration Council, Cambodian Property Association and National Commercial Arbitration Centre (NCAC). So far, we have held four workshops together.

Another mechanism we accomplished is disseminating the law to the public and lawyers. We also initiated several programmes regarding questions of the law, dialogues with lawyers and debates on law. In addition, the BAKC is proud to have set up its own studio for photographing interviews or disseminating other laws.

How does BAKC collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to provide service for the poor?

Concerning the work, the BAKC has established four mechanisms. First, the BAKC has consented to defend cases involving poor people. This is done with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, as the government provides funds for BAKC every year. Second, we have collaborated with the CNCW. Third, we have a policy to provide voluntary legal representation, which is to defend and offer consultation to the poor and garment workers free of charge. Fourth, we have just implemented the new mechanisms with UNICEF.

Can you specify how many cases involving the poor have BAKC defended in these two years?

We have defended 11,892 cases consisting of 19,194 clients including 1,353 women and 4,589 minors.

In collaboration with the CNCW in these two years, we have defended 117 cases including 120 women and girls.

We have begun to provide free legal consultation and defence since February 2021. To date, we have defended 257 cases involving 388 clients.

However, the BAKC has faced challenges, especially when defending poor people.

First, we encounter budget problems. When volunteer lawyers defend these cases, they have to spend their own money photographing case files and travelling. But we now receive assistance from the government where the budget has increased.

In 2021, we received two billion riel a year. In 2022, it increased to as much as 2.6 billion riel. Government assistance has helped to reduce some burden on the lawyers. We also received government support through the CNCW.

Second, we have difficulty sending lawyers to remote provinces. Sometimes, people in remote provinces face difficulty when they need legal representation because most of our lawyers are located in major provinces. But when we travel to a small province, we encounter problems. However, we assure that the service is provided regardless of the distance.

In future, we urge our lawyers to help with cases in remote provinces. So far, I have been very happy to see our lawyers asking to work as delegates in far provinces, which we approve immediately.

What is the direction of the association in future in terms of the well-being and professionalism of lawyers?

The direction is that we hope to expand the scope of the welfare fund for lawyers in the near future. We are also considering the establishment of a system to provide retirement funds for old lawyers or those who are seriously ill.

We will establish mechanisms to help them. The Bar Association has visited lawyers who are old or sick. We have our delegates to visit them.

I promised another point. We are preparing to present a medal as a token of gratitude for lawyers who have helped with the legal profession or helped bring justice in the society.

As an important work direction, we will continue to promote the legal profession. We also aim to bring awareness to some important laws at the commune level. We will continue to strengthen the capabilities and professionalism of lawyers.