Over the past year, the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) has provided legal services to the poor in over 6,000 cases and their volunteer lawyers plan to continue expanding their free legal services to the poor to ensure Cambodians’ rights to equal access to a legal defence, according to BAKC president Ly Chantola.

BAKC are holding their 26th General Assembly over October 15-18 in order to elect new members to the Bar Council and establish a new mandate for 2021-2024.

In a speech given at the meeting on October 16, Chantola said that despite the current pandemic situation and the challenges posed by the crisis, BAKC has been able to achieve many important goals.

Chantola said that in the past year, BAKC has assigned lawyers to a total of 6,692 clients, including nearly 500 women and 1,548 minors.

He said that in addition to providing people with a legal defence, BAKC has also been providing free legal consultations to the poor.

“We have continued to strengthen and expand our services in the judiciary in order to promote the rights to justice in society by providing free legal assistance to the poor. In 2022, the government will increase the budget for this project to 2.6 billion riel [around $640,000] to ensure the people’s rights to legal defence,” he said.

Chantola also claimed that in addition to providing free legal defence to the poor through government funding, there were also other defence and legal consultation services taking place through many other programmes.

The numbers of volunteer lawyers has increased to 214 in total, with each lawyer receiving about 1.2 million riel per case.

Sok Sam Oeun, an attorney with the Amrin Law and Consultants Group, said he could not assess the quality of the bar association’s legal services for the poor, but in his experience the provision of free defence lawyers in Cambodia still had some shortcomings and any such programme needed to be closely monitored in order to be managed effectively.

“This is a good idea, but they should have the lawyers participating from the beginning of the investigation and not just provide a lawyer to stand there at the trial, because if the investigation isn’t accurate it will affect the trial results.

“I think there may be some issues because the lawyers who show up to defend the poor sometimes don’t know their clients’ name or case when they arrive at the hearing,” he said.

In addition to this, Sam Oeun said he would also like to see increased subsidies for volunteer lawyers to ensure that the funds provided enable each lawyer to perform their duties adequately and fully.

At the conference, Chantola noted that as of May of this year BAKC has 2,382 members, of whom 1,788 are full-time professional lawyers with the rest being law students and interns, or members who have retired from the profession or are not actively working in the legal profession.