The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) will work with Cambodia National Council for Women to provide legal defence services and train enforcement officials in relevant laws.

BAKC signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Cooperation to Provide Defence Services to Poor Women and Girls who are Victimised by Violence and Provide Legal Training to this end on March 17.

In a press release, BAKC said the MoU that lasts for three years from January 2021 to December 2023.

“This MoU is made to strengthen and expand legal services to poor women and girls who are victimised by violence and train the law to officials of the Permanent Secretariat General of the Cambodian National Council for Women and judicial police of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the departments of Women’s Affairs in the capital city and provinces,” the press release said.

In the MoU, BAKC was obliged to provide legal services to poor women and girls who have been victims of domestic violence, sexually abused, had their rights violated, and honour and dignity abused. It was also obliged to procure legal representation for women who were divorced due to violence.

The press release added that BAKC had participated in training law enforcement officials of the national council for women and the departments of women’s affairs. The council for women was obliged to provide 1,200,000 riel ($300) per case to lawyers who defended cases or represented victims.

BAKC issued a policy on February 5, for free-of-charge consultation and defence for the poor. The MoU is an important element of the policy. BAKC has continued to strive to provide legal aid to the poor, especially to children and workers to strengthen social equality and justice and uphold the excellence of the legal profession.

According to BAKC, as of February 19, it had defended 2,167 cases of the poor and 3,658 clients were defended across the country in the course of 100 days after lawyer Ly Chantola was elected president of the 13th mandate of BAKC on October 16, last year.

Chantola could not be reached for comment on March 21. But he said in a press conference on achievements of the 100-day work of lawyers: “As a defence volunteer lawyer for citizens, we must not defend our clients in a perfunctory manner. But we must perform the role of ethics, profession as the law prescribes. In the past, BAKC had punished a few lawyers for not respecting ethics.”

Representatives from the Permanent Secretariat General of the Cambodian National Council for Women, Ministry of Women’s Affairs or other spokespersons from the ministry could be contacted on March 21 for comment.

Rights group Adhoc senior investigator Soeng Sen Karuna said that he had in the past observed that volunteer lawyers from BAKC and volunteer lawyers from the government had taken part in defending poor women, children and others. But some cases had yet to get a satisfactory result.

“I have observed that the government has yet to provide sufficient volunteer lawyers for defending poor clients. In the past, poor women, children and other people had been defended by volunteer lawyers. But we look at the quality of the lawyers, and they don’t seem to provide the proper understanding,” he said.