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
"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
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
"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."
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."