The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) has expressed strong concerns over the conduct of some “competent authorities” which they say is tantamount to usurpation of the bar’s authority over the legal profession.

Some of the practices that the association objects to specifically are the act of holding lawyers who are representing their clients; forcing lawyers to refer clients to the judicial police; forcing lawyers to violate attorney-client privilege by disclosing confidential information; filing lawsuits against lawyers for defamation due to statements made in the course of representing a client; and lawsuits for incitement based on the legal counsel that a lawyer provides to their clients.

In their statement, the BAKC called on the relevant authorities to take stock of an attorney’s professional activities before proceeding with any legal action against them.

If they determine that the complaint is due to activities undertaken in the course of the attorney’s practice of their profession, then the authorities should forward the complaint to the BAKC for resolution in accordance with the laws as stated in articles 19 and 27 of the Law on the Status of Lawyers.

Meanwhile, the BAKC also called on all lawyers to adhere to the law and their own professional code of ethics.

The bar noted that any lawyer who has legal action taken against them or who is aware of legal complaints regarding lawyers should provide this information to the BAKC immediately so that it has sufficient time for review and intervention in a timely manner.

BAKC president Ly Chantola explained that the bar had observed over the last few months repeated instances where the authorities have called in lawyers for questioning and sometimes even held them for this purpose because of the work they are doing for clients.

“Sometimes the client is not satisfied or sometimes the authorities can’t find the perpetrator and so they call the lawyer in for questioning or force the lawyer to tell them where their client is. Due to all these problems, the BAKC issued this statement as a reminder of the bar’s statutorily mandated authority over the legal profession,” he said.

He said that when the authorities receive complaints regarding lawyers they must check to see if these cases should be sent to the BAKC for resolution because their investigations have indicated that a great deal of the time complaints against lawyers concern their professional activities, either directly or indirectly.

According to Chantola, the letter also requested the cooperation of the authorities so that if any lawyers commit any offenses that do not fall under the purview of the BAKC, they can send the case to the bar for action before it refers the case back to them.

National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said he had seen the letter but that it was vague about the term “relevant authorities”, which he said could refer to the police, Military Police, Anti-Corruption Unit officials, municipal and provincial governors or even ministers.

“I already read his letter but I still don’t know what he wants. From experiences, it’s mostly the lawyers who file complaints against the police. And we’ve never intimidated lawyers. As a matter of fact, it’s the lawyers who show up and demand copies of this or that document. Sometimes they threaten legal action,” he said.

Kim Khoeun said the bar’s request for cooperation must follow legal procedures. Citing criminal cases as an example, he explained that lawyers cannot interfere if the cases are under ongoing investigation.

He said this is one of the legal procedures that are stipulated clearly in the Criminal Code.

“The important thing is that we all should respect the laws and regulations. But sometimes the bar has asked the police to copy documents for them and it is wrong according to procedure. And the lawyers know that but they still ask.

“We never shout at lawyers, but it’s the lawyers who shout at police officers when they refuse to let them see their clients [in criminal cases],” Kim Khouen said.